Rapid global warming of 5° to 10°C during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) coincided with major turnover in vertebrate faunas, but previous studies have found little floral change. Plant fossils discovered in Wyoming, United States, show that PETM floras were a mixture of native and migrant lineages and that plant range shifts were large and rapid (occurring within 10,000 years). Floral composition and leaf shape and size suggest that climate warmed by ∼5°C during the PETM and that precipitation was low early in the event and increased later. Floral response to warming and/or increased atmospheric CO2 during the PETM was comparable in rate and magnitude to that seen in postglacial floras and to the predicted effects of anthropogenic carbon release and climate change on future vegetation.
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