Fossil plant assemblages including spores and pollen grains provide useful information on past ecosystems and the response of terrestrial biotas to various environmental perturbations. New quantitative palynological data from the Chinle Formation of the American Southwest suggest that a floral turnover occurred in the middle Norian (between 217 and 213 Ma). Analysis of plant communities reveals that this turnover was followed by a complete reorganization of the riparian vegetation, driven by changes in fluvial styles and the tectonic regime of the basin, as well as a gradual transition toward a more arid climate. Marked increases in Klausipollenites gouldii, Patinasporites spp., and Froelichsporites traversei are probable indicators of environmental stress, such as increased aridity, perturbations of atmospheric pCO2, acid rain, and atmospheric aerosol accumulation due to volcanism in connection with the Pangean rifting and uplift of the Cordilleran arc. Comparison of the vegetation turnover with younger assemblages from the Chinle Formation in New Mexico revealed similar floral turnover patterns, suggesting two distinct drier periods as a result of multiple climatic oscillations.

The climate-induced floral turnover may have contributed to the vertebrate faunal turnover as the loss of wetland habitat space and an increase in xerophytic plants may have dwindled the supply of palatable vegetation for herbivores. The onset of the floral turnover in Arizona roughly corresponds to the Manicouagan impact event, but a direct causal link is still speculative.

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