Abstract

Fossil leaves in the middle Miocene Cucaracha Formation along the Panama Canal are 10–15 cm long, thick, and entire-margined; fossil pollen is also dicot dominated, as expected for wet tropical forests. Fossil woods include palms and ring-porous dicots, with smooth bark as is found in weakly seasonal tropical climates. In contrast, late Hemingfordian to early Barstovian mammals of the Cucaracha Formation are the same as those found in Nebraska, Kansas, and Florida, where climate was drier and cooler and vegetation more open. Cucaracha paleosols reconcile these differences as evidence of a mosaic of swamps to mangal (mangrove forests) preserving plants and dry uplands preserving mammals. A dozen pedotypes represent as many vegetation types, including mangrove, fresh-water and marine-influenced swamp, early successional riparian woodland, colonizing forest, dry tropical forest, and woodland. Many paleosols have calcareous nodules, and some have pedogenic barite nodules. Depth to carbonate and paleosol thickness with carbonate indicate mean annual precipitation of 573–916 ± 147 mm and mean annual range of precipitation of 27–65 ± 22 mm. Chemical analyses of paleosol Bt horizons confirm mean annual precipitation of 296–1142 mm and mean annual temperature of 15–16 ± 4.4°C. Low precipitation and temperature estimates imply a rain shadow from a high (1400–4000 m) volcanic mountain range to the west, with continuous land connection to allow immigration of mammals from North America. Partial enclosure of the Caribbean Sea by a mountainous Panama peninsula, as well as by Antillean arcs, initiated high Caribbean marine temperature and salinity well before Pliocene isthmian closure.

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