Spatiotemporal variation in the origin of C4 grasses: δ13C analysis of grass pollen from the southeastern United States

David M. Nelson, Michael A. Urban, Feng Sheng Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The C4-plant functional type is a major evolutionary and ecological success. However, the relative importance of environmental factors, such as climatic conditions and atmospheric CO2 concentrations, in driving the origin of C4 grasses in different parts of the world remains poorly understood. We determined the carbon-isotope composition of 612 individual grains of grass pollen in seven sediment samples from the southeastern United States from the middle/late Eocene. By applying a Bayesian model to these data, we determined the probability of rejecting (at p<0.05) the null model that each sample contained pollen from only C3 grasses. We could not reject the null hypothesis for any sample when using a range of potential values of δ13C of atmospheric CO2. These results suggest that C4 grasses were not present on the landscape during the middle/late Eocene, a conclusion consistent with a limited number of studies from more northern and western regions of North America. In contrast, prior studies indicate that C4 grasses existed during this time in parts of Europe and South America. Together these results imply variations in the location, time, and environmental conditions associated with the origin of C4 grasses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-231
Number of pages5
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - Feb 15 2014


  • C
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Carbon isotopes
  • Claiborne Group
  • Grass
  • Pollen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Spatiotemporal variation in the origin of C4 grasses: δ13C analysis of grass pollen from the southeastern United States'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this