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Keywords:

  • Campanian;
  • Chilga;
  • East Africa;
  • Eremospatha;
  • evolution;
  • extinction;
  • fossils;
  • Hyphaene;
  • Palmae;
  • West Africa

The African palm fossil record is limited but the data provide an outline of palm evolution from the Late Cretaceous through the Neogene. Pollen attributed to palms is reported from the Aptian (125–112 Mya), but the earliest unequivocal record in Africa is Campanian (83.5–70.6 Mya). Palms diversified 83.5–65.5 Mya and became widespread, although most records are from the west and north African coasts. Many taxa were shared between Africa and northern South America at that time, but a few were pantropical. Extirpations occurred throughout the Palaeogene, including a notable species turnover and decline at the Eocene–Oligocene boundary (33.9 Mya), a change that resulted in the elimination of nypoid palms from Africa. The Neogene plant macrofossil record is better sampled than the Palaeogene, although few palms are documented. Thus, the low diversity of African palms today is more likely the result of Palaeogene, rather than Neogene extinctions. Newly discovered palm fossils of leaves, petioles and flowers from the Late Oligocene (27–28 Mya) of north-western Ethiopia document the abundance and dominance of palms in some communities at that time. The fossils represent the earliest records of the extant genera Hyphaene (Coryphoideae) and Eremospatha (Calamoideae). © 2006 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2006, 151, 69–81.