The terrestrial crisis that reportedly parallels the P/Tr marine mass extinction is based mainly on Northern Hemisphere microfloral assemblages and Southern Hemisphere Gondwanan macrofloral collections. It is well established that taphonomic filters control the ultimate collectable fossil assemblage in any depositional regime. Recognition and comparison of isotaphonomic assemblages are critical before conclusions can be drawn about evolutionary trends over time. Such an approach has been taken in the investigation of pre-boundary, trans-boundary, and post-boundary plant-fossil assemblages in the Karoo Basin, South Africa.
Fourteen stratigraphic sections were evaluated in the Balfour and Normandien formations (Lower Beaufort Group), Katberg Formation, and overlying Burgersdorp Formation (Upper Beaufort Group). These include previously published (e.g., Bulwer, Bethulie, Carlton Heights, Wapadsberg, Commando Drift) as well as newly discovered (e.g., Clouston Farm) localities, and span the Late Permian to Middle Triassic. Fossiliferous intervals were characterized with respect to their sedimentology and plant taphonomy, and bulk collections were made at several stratigraphic levels for future evaluation of floristic and plant-insect associational trends.
The depositional regimes and plant taphonomic character of assemblages change through time. Much of the Lower Beaufort Group is characterized by parautochthonous assemblages within oxbow-lake channel fills. Below the P/Tr boundary, these are replaced by allochthonous assemblages, poorly preserved in lateral-accretion deposits and barforms of relatively shallow fluvial nature. Allochthonous assemblages within the same fluvial context continue across the boundary into the earliest Triassic (Palingkloof Member and Katberg Formation, and typify the Middle Triassic where scour-and-fill structures preserve plant debris. Based on the literature, parautochthonous assemblages reappear in the Upper Triassic Molteno Formation. Hence, the change in taphonomic regime to poorly preserved allochthonous assemblages (dispersed, fragmentary adpressions) at the critical interval on either side of the P/Tr extinction event, but not coincident with, requires extreme caution when interpreting global patterns from these data. Additionally, the presence of plant fossils in the Early Triassic provides evidence for a vegetated landscape during a time when sedimentation patterns are interpreted to be the result of a land-plant die-off.