Leaf fossils in Borneo reveal the biodiversity of the island’s rainforest 4 million years ago

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Researchers are studying fossilized leaves in Borneo for the first time, demonstrating the characteristics of the dominant life form in Borneo and throughout the Asian humid tropics – dipterocarps.

Borneo, home to nearly 270 species of dipterocarps, looks a lot like it would have looked in the Pliocene epoch around 2.6 to 5.3 million years ago, researchers say. After studying the fossil leaves in detail, he revealed an ancient forest that flourished and supported the island’s biodiversity for 4 million years, as reported by Science Alert.

With tropical Asian biodiversity currently threatened by the climate, the island plays a crucial role in supporting this biodiversity and this discovery suggests a valuable ecosystem to protect for future generations.

Dominant life form on the island

More than half of the world’s species total is made up of dipterocarps, one of the world’s tallest trees, reaching heights of 100 meters (328 feet, the height of a 22-story building

Dipterocarps, the current dominant tree group in the nation of Brunei on the island of Borneo, have dominated rainforests for at least four million years, according to an international research team led by Penn State in partnership with Universiti Brunei Darussalam. of years.

“This is the first demonstration that the dominant life form characteristic of Borneo and the whole of the Asian humid tropics, the dipterocarps, was not only present but really dominant”, explains paleobotanist Peter Wilf, professor of Geosciences at Penn State College Earth and Mineral. Sciences and co-funded faculty member of the Institutes of Energy and Environment (IEE). “We found many more dipterocarp fossils than any other plant group.”

Although they are very large, rock fossils of their leaves are difficult to find, due to the cover provided by forests and their soils, Wilf said.

The results, published in the journal PeerJ, suggest that the current landscape is similar to those from 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago and could provide further justification for the conservation of these forests which are home to many critically endangered species.

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Life Foundation for Island Flora and Fauna

Despite the prevalence of logging activities, agricultural land conversion, climate change and deforestation on the island of Borneo, it has managed to preserve the majority of its ancient rainforests.

Previous studies of the island’s plant life typically involved fossil pollen. However, due to the decay of dipterocarp pollen susceptible to decomposition, it is suspected that pollen studies have not provided researchers with the full picture.

Here the team found that rocks containing many fossils of dipterocarp leaves, combined with dipterocarp pollen, reveal an ancient world of mangroves, swamps, lowland rainforests, and various undergrowth of ferns and of vines – an ancient ecosystem almost exactly like what is found in Brunei. today.

“We’re starting to see what the environment was like millions of years ago,” Wilf says. “It looked a lot like what you can find there now, although those habitats have been culled across much of tropical Asia.”

According to Wilf, each paleontological discovery provides fundamental support for the creation of conservation areas and public education, among other things. Today, about 89% of Asian dipterocarp species have Near Threatened status, while 57% are labeled Endangered, Critically Endangered or Extinct.

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