The structure of the living Patagonian flora, dominated by the steppe, is a direct consequence of past climatic and tectonic events. These arid-adapted communities were widespread during the Late Neogene, but their origin in Patagonia can be traced back to the Paleogene. Vegetational trends throughout Paleocene-Miocene time are based on available paleobotanical and palynological information. Four major supported stages in vegetation turnovers are recognized: (1) Paleocene and Early Eocene floras were rainforest-dominated, including many angiosperms with warm-temperate affinities (e.g., palms, Juglandaceae, Casuarinaceae). However, mainly in the Early Eocene, some geographic areas influenced by warm but drier conditions are suggested by the occurrence of certain taxa (e.g., Anacardiaceae). These areas containing arid-adapted floras would have arisen in Patagonian inland regions, in a generally wet continent. (2) The Middle Eocene-Early Oligocene interval was distinguished by the invasion of Nothofagus forests. Progressive replacements of megathermal communities by meso- and microthermal rainforest are documented. Nothofagus forest expansion suggests a marked cooling trend at this time, although some megathermal elements (Aquifoliaceae Ilex, Tiliaceae-Bombacaceae, Sapindaceae) were still present at the beginning of this period. Arid-loving taxa have not been recorded in abundance. (3) Late Oligocene-Early Miocene floras were characterized by the occurrence of shrubby-herbaceous elements belonging to Asteraceae, Chenopodiaceae, Ephedraceae, Convolvulaceae, Fabaceae, and Poaceae. They began to give a modern appearance to plant communities. Xerophytic formations would have occupied coastal salt marshes and pockets in inland areas. Megathermal angiosperms of the Rubiaceae, Combretaceae, Sapindaceae, Chloranthaceae, and Arecaceae occurred mainly during the Late Oligocene. Forests of Nothofagaceae, Podocarpaceae, and Araucariaceae are still documented in extra-Andean Patagonia; however, a contrast between coastal and inland environments may have developed, particularly in the Miocene. (4) Middle-Late Miocene records show an increasing diversity and abundance of xerophytic-adapted taxa, including Asteraceae, Chenopodiaceae, and Convolvulaceae Cressa/Wilsonia. Expansion of these xerophytic taxa, coupled with extinctions of megathermal/nonseasonal elements, would have been associated with both tectonic and climatic forcing factors, led to the development of aridity and extreme seasonality. These arid-adapted Late Miocene floras are closely related to modern communities, with steppe widespread across extra-Andean Patagonia and forest restricted to the western humid upland regions.
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