Widespread Development of Silcrete in the Cretaceous and Evolution of the Poaceae Family of Grass Plants

  •  Timothy Bata    


The Cretaceous period, which is considered one of the most remarkable periods in Earth’s history, saw episodes of abrupt greenhouse warming and cooling. The Cretaceous was also exceptional in that it was associated with the widespread occurrence of silcrete. To demonstrate this, the present study collated records of silcrete occurrences from the Jurassic to the present and compared them with records of variation in palaeotemperature and atmospheric CO2 levels. Quartz solubility, which is one of the key factors that controls the rate of silcrete development, was also calculated over the same period. The results demonstrate that a marked increase (approximately 100%) in quartz solubility occurred during the Cretaceous. This was found to be a direct consequence of the extreme global warmth witnessed at that time. Furthermore, this study shows that silcrete occurrences are consistent with records of palaeotemperature and that silcretes have formed mostly in regions that have experienced warm climatic conditions, with no instances found in polar regions. The Poaceae family of grass plants are known to have evolved and diversified during the Cretaceous, which coincide with the period when silica was readily available. X-ray spectra and backscattered images from SEM examination of the internal structure of a modern wild grass (which belongs to the Poaceae family of grass plants) reveals that silica is an important constituent of the grass. This suggest a possible link between evolution of the Poaceae family in the Cretaceous and the high availability of silica during the Cretaceous.

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