Premise of the study: The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is a major center of plant diversity and endemism, but little is known about how this developed due to the region's very scarce paleobotanical record. The silverberry genus Elaeagnus (Elaeagnaceae) reaches its greatest diversity (54 species) and endemism (36 species) in this area. Fossil Elaeagnaceae could provide significant evidence for the phylogeny and biogeography of the family and contribute primary data regarding the evolution of the unique Qinghai-Tibet Plateau flora in its dramatic setting of tectonic and climatic change.•
Methods: We describe four fossil leaves with diagnostic features of Elaeagnus from the late Miocene of eastern Tibet, modern altitude of 3910 m a.s.l.. We also review prior fossil records of Elaeagnaceae.•
Key results: The well-preserved, densely packed, stellate scales on fossil leaf surfaces are diagnostic of Elaeagnaceae. We assign these fossil leaves to Elaeagnus tibetensis T. Su et Z.K. Zhou sp. nov., comprising the first confirmed fossil Elaeagnus leaves worldwide.•
Conclusions: Elaeagnus was present in eastern Tibet by the late Miocene. Together with previous fossil records, the new species supports a Holarctic history of the family. The diversification of Elaeagnus in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and adjacent areas might have been driven by continuous uplift at least since the late Miocene, causing formation of complex topography and climate with high rainfall seasonality. The characteristic scales on leaf surfaces are likely to be an important functional adaptation to seasonal droughts during early spring.
Keywords: Elaeagnaceae; Elaeagnus; Hippophae; Miocene; Qinghai-Tibet Plateau; Shepherdia; biogeography; climate change; fossil; leaf.
© 2014 Botanical Society of America, Inc.