Dry biomes occupy ~35% of the landscape in the Neotropics, but these are heavily human-disturbed. In spite of their importance, we still do not fully understand their origins and how they are sustained. The Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia is dominated by dry biomes and has a rich Neogene fossil record. Here, we have analyzed its changes in vegetation and precipitation during the Neogene using a fossil pollen and spore dataset of 20 samples taken from a well and we also dated the stratigraphic sequence using microfossils. In addition, we analyzed the pollen and spore contents of 10 Holocene samples to establish a modern baseline for comparison with the Neogene as well as a study of the modern vegetation to assess both its spatial distribution and anthropic disturbances during the initial stages of European colonization. The section was dated to span from the latest Oligocene to the early Miocene (~24.2 to 17.3 Ma), with the Oligocene/Miocene boundary being in the lower Uitpa Formation. The early Miocene vegetation is dominated by a rainforest biome with a mean annual precipitation of ~2,000 mm/yr, which strongly contrasts with Guajira's modern xerophytic vegetation and a precipitation of ~300 mm/yr. The shift to the dry modern vegetation probably occurred over the past three millions years, but the mechanism that led to this change is still uncertain. Global circulation models that include the vegetation could explain the ancient climate of Guajira, but further work is required to assess the feedbacks of vegetation, precipitation, and CO2.


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

biome; dry forest; Miocene; Neotropics; palynology; rainforest

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Article - Journal

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Final Version

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© 2020 American Geophysical Union, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Nov 2020


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