Tsuga seed cones from the late Paleogene of southwestern China and their biogeographical and paleoenvironmental implications

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Tsuga; seed cone; eocene; oligocene; climate change; Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

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Six Tsuga ovuliferous/seed cone impression fossils were discovered from the late Eocene (34.6 ± 0.8 Ma) Lawula Formation in Mangkang County, eastern Tibet and the early Oligocene (32 ± 1 Ma) lacustrine deposits in Lühe Basin, Nanhua County, Yunnan Province. These two fossil sites are both located in southwestern China, ∼800 km apart from each other. These fossils represent the oldest records of this genus in southwestern China, even earliest reliable macrofossil records of this genus in the world. These well-preserved seed cones provide sufficient materials for the establishment of Tsuga asiatica Wu et Zhou n. sp. to accommodate five specimens, leaving one to be assigned to T. cf. dumosa Eichler (cf. Wu et Zhou). Both qualitative and quantitative comparisons with other cone fossils and cones of all living species of the genus suggested that T. asiatica shares more similarities with one of the basal species of the genus T. heterophylla. The discovery of late Paleogene macrofossil records of Tsuga in southwestern China supports the previous hypothesis of the early disposal routes of this coniferous genus predicted by phylogenetic analysis. The elevation ranges and the climate requirements of living species that are closely related to our fossils suggest that the southeastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau should be much warmer, and wetter in late Paleogene than nowadays.