Abstract

The agreement in the pattern of major biomes with that of climatic zonation of the Earth gives a strong indication that climate is the overriding influence controlling the distribution of plant communities. Three aspects of plants which may be preserved in the fossil state, give a signal of the climatic conditions under which they grew: (1) the present climatic association of their 'nearest living relative'; (2) leaf physiognomy of arborescent plants; (3) the character of their secondary xylem ('wood' of ordinary usage) reflecting, by the presence or absence of growth rings, the seasonality (or lack of it) in their environment and the potential for tree growth that it offered. The significance and limitations of these 'palaeoclimatic signals' as they may be read from the fossil plant record are reviewed and evaluated. The recent demonstration that stomatal frequency of leaves is responsive to changes in ambient carbon dioxide partial pressure offers promise for direct palaeobotanical evidence for past changes in the level of this climatically significant atmospheric constituent.

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