Eocene dry climate and woodland vegetation in tropical Africa reconstructed from fossil leaves from northern Tanzania

Bonnie F. Jacobs, Patrick S. Herendeen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Eocene vegetation and climate data from tropical latitudes are sparse despite special interest in the Eocene as the warmest epoch of the Cenozoic and an often-cited analogue for greenhouse Earth conditions. Tropical Africa is noteworthy for its shortage of Eocene fossils, which could serve as proxies for climate and reveal community structural evolution during the continent's geographic isolation. In this paper, we report paleobotanical remains from a middle Eocene crater lake at 12°S paleolatitude in north central Tanzania, which provide a plant community reconstruction indicating wooded, rather than forest, vegetation and precipitation estimates near modern (660 mm/year). The plant community was dominated by caesalpinioid legumes and was physiognomically comparable to modern miombo woodland. Paleoprecipitation estimates, the first for the Paleogene of Africa, are calculated from fossil leaf morphology using regression equations derived from modern low-latitude leaves and climate. Mean annual precipitation estimates are 643±32 and 776±39 mm/year, and wet months precipitation estimates (all months averaging≥50 mm) are 630±38 and 661±38 mm. A slightly larger proportion of annual precipitation occurred in the dry months compared with today, which may indicate greater equability of precipitation in the Eocene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-123
Number of pages9
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Oct 7 2004


  • Africa
  • Eocene
  • Paleobotany
  • Paleoclimate
  • Paleogene
  • Tanzania

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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