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"It's like finding a polar bear in Antarctica,"

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Fossil nuts from ancient Gondwanan beech tree challenge plant evolution:

Nothing could be more different to the dry windy plains of Patagonia than the moist rainforests of the New Guinea highlands.

Yet researchers reporting today in the journal Science say fossils of a beech tree found in southern Argentina are from a genus which these days grows in the wet forests of South-East Asia and New Guinea — thousands of kilometres north of freezing Patagonia.

Key points:

Plant fossils found in Patagonia are from the Castanopsis genus, which grew there when South America was joined to Australia through Antarctica

When Australia split from Antarctica, it drifted north carrying plants from the last remnant of Gondwana with it

Some say this is how Castanopsis came to be in places like New Guinea today, but not everyone is convinced.

They say the 52-million-year-old fossils, found at a site called Laguna del Hunco, are leaves and clusters of fruit (containing largish seeds, or nuts) from an extinct species dubbed Castanopsis rothwellii.

The find is particularly puzzling because the ancient tree is from the plant family that includes oak and chestnut trees, which evolved in the northern hemisphere, said author Peter Wilf, a professor of geosciences from Penn State University.

"It's like finding a polar bear in Antarctica," Professor Wilf said.

more at link......

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