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Dr Alan Channing

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Gran Canaria Fossil Floras


Above - Fossiliferous sedimentary sequence related to the formation of the Pliocene Roque Nublo Volcano, Gran Canaria.


Project Description

The extant flora of Macaronesia is of intense interest to botanists who are attempting to unravel patterns of inter-island dispersal/colonisation and/or vicariance and intra-island evolution. Model-based molecular methods (e.g. molecular phylogenetics and biogeography) are used that produce hypotheses for real-evolution. Currently biologists rely on geological phenomena to constrain hypotheses e.g. age of volcanic island emergence or dates of catastrophic island sterilizing eruptions or flank collapses. These proxies inadequately determine evolutionary patterns and rates and are subject to (mis)interpretation.


Fossils appear to be the only real corroboration for hypotheses. However, until recently the Canary Islands volcanic stratigraphy has been considered unfossiliferous. In this study Cajsa lisa Anderson and I are trying to document the fossil plants of Gran Canaria contained in Mio-Pliocene volcanic and sedimentary sequences. We are hoping to explore for further palaeofloras in optimal targets on Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera and other macaronesian islands. Central questions to be addressed include: Do fossil and extant floras exhibit the same levels of diversity and endemism? Are the forest ecosystems (laurisilva (laurel forest) and Pinus canariensis cloud forests)), which had much broader Mediterranean/NW. African distributions in the Neogene, Miocene relicts? Is there a fossil record of the evolution of features that make many Macaronesian plants distinctive from their continental relatives such as woody and/or sclerophyllous habits?


The notion that Gran Canaria lacks fossil has been overturned by our discovery of numerous fossil horizons (Anderson and Channing 2007 abstract - poster, 2008 abstract - poster). Our research also challenges the assumption that violent volcanism on Gran Canaria c. 3.5 million years ago sterilized the island.


Pliocene fern fossil, the first recorded from Gran Canaria. 


Cajsa wishing she had a ladder to investigate the tree preserved as an external mould in the cliff above her head.