Authors: Thomas Denk, Dimitrios Velitzelos, Tuncay H. Güner, Johannes M. Bouchal, Friðgeir Grímsson, Guido W. Grimm
Sclerophyllous oaks (genus Quercus) play important roles in Neogene ecosystems of south-western Eurasia. Modern analogues (‘nearest living relatives’) for these oaks have been sought among five of six infrageneric lineages of Quercus, distributed across the entire Northern Hemisphere. A revision of leaf fossils from lower Miocene to Pliocene deposits suggests that morphotypes of the Quercus drymeja complex are very similar to a number of extant Himalayan, East Asian, and Southeast Asian species of Quercus Group Ilex and may indicate subtropical, relatively humid conditions. Quercus mediterranea comprises leaf morphotypes that are encountered in modern Mediterranean species of Quercus Group Ilex, but also in Himalayan and East Asian members of this group indicating fully humid or summer-wet conditions. The fossil taxa Quercus drymeja and Q. mediterranea should be treated as morphotype complexes, which possibly comprised different biological species at different times. Quercus mediterranea, although readily recognizable as a distinct morphotype in early to late Miocene plant assemblages, may in fact represent small leaves of the same plants that constitute the Quercus drymeja complex. Based on the available evidence, the species forming the Q. drymeja complex and Q. mediterranea thrived in fully humid or summer-wet climates. The onset of the modern vegetational context of Mediterranean sclerophyllous oaks is difficult to trace, but may have been during the latest Pliocene/early Pleistocene.