Nothofagus, also known as the southern beeches, is a genus of 43 species of trees and shrubs native to the Southern Hemisphere in southern South America (Chile, Argentina) and Australasia (east and southeast Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and New Caledonia). The species are ecological dominants in many temperate forests in these regions. Some species are reportedly naturalised in Germany and Great Britain. The genus has a rich fossil record of leaves, cupules and pollen, with fossils extending into the late Cretaceous and occurring in Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and South America. In the past, they were included in the family Fagaceae, but genetic tests revealed them to be genetically distinct, and they are now included in their own family, the Nothofagaceae (literally meaning "false beeches" or "bastard beeches").
|The roble beech (Nothofagus obliqua) from South America|
|The range of Nothofagus.|
Many individual trees are extremely old, and at one time, some populations were thought to be unable to reproduce in present-day conditions where they were growing, except by suckering (clonal reproduction), being remnant forest from a cooler time. Sexual reproduction has since been shown to be possible. Although the genus now mostly occurs in cool, isolated, high-altitude environments at temperate and tropical latitudes the fossil record shows that it survived in climates that appear to be much warmer than those that Nothofagus now occupies.
The genus is classified in these subgenera:
- Nothofagus aequilateralis (New Caledonia)
- Nothofagus balansae (New Caledonia)
- Nothofagus baumanniae (New Caledonia)
- Nothofagus brassii (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus carrii (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus codonandra (New Caledonia)
- Nothofagus crenata (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus discoidea (New Caledonia)
- Nothofagus flaviramea (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus grandis (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus nuda (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus perryi (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus pseudoresinosa (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus pullei (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus resinosa (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus rubra (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus starkenborghii (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus stylosa (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus womersleyi (New Guinea)
- Nothofagus mucronata (extinct) (Tasmania, Early Oligocene)
- Nothofagus serrata (extinct) (Tasmania, Early Oligocene)
- Nothofagus balfourensis (extinct) (Tasmania, Late Oligocene-Early Miocene)
- Nothofagus cooksoniae (extinct) (Tasmania, Early Oligocene)
- Nothofagus peduncularis (extinct) (Tasmania, Early Oligocene)
- Nothofagus robusta (extinct) (Tasmania, Early Oligocene)
- Nothofagus smithtonensis (extinct) (Tasmania, Early Oligocene)
- Nothofagus palustris (extinct) (New Zealand, Late Oligocene-Early Miocene)
- Nothofagus alessandri (Central Chile)
- Nothofagus fusca (New Zealand)
- Nothofagus gunnii (Australia: Tasmania)
- Nothofagus solandri (New Zealand)
- Nothofagus truncata (New Zealand)
- Nothofagus cethanica (extinct) (Tasmania, Early Oligocene)
- Nothofagus alpina (=N. procera) (Central Chile/Argentina)
- Nothofagus cunninghamii (Australia: Victoria, Tasmania)
- Nothofagus glauca (Central Chile)
- Nothofagus leonii (Central Chile), (likely a hybrid between N. glauca and N. oblicua)
- Nothofagus macrocarpa (Central Chile, prov. Argentina)
- Nothofagus menziesii (New Zealand)
- Nothofagus moorei (Australia: New South Wales, Queensland)
- Nothofagus obliqua (Chile/Argentina)
- Nothofagus smithtonensis (extinct) (Tasmania, Early Oligocene)
- Nothofagus muelleri (extinct) (New South Wales, Late Eocene)
- Nothofagus novae-zealandiae (extinct) (New Zealand, Mid-Late Miocene)
- Nothofagus pachyphylla (extinct) (Tasmania, Early Pleistocene)
- Nothofagus tasmanica (extinct) (Tasmania, Eocene - Early Oligocene)
- Subgenus Nothofagus - type N. antarctica
- Nothofagus antarctica (Southern Argentina and Chile)
- Nothofagus betuloides (Southern Argentina and Chile)
- Nothofagus dombeyi (Central Chile and Andean Patagonia-Argentina)
- Nothofagus nitida (Southern Chile and probably Argentina)
- Nothofagus pumilio (Argentina/Chile)
- Nothofagus lobata (extinct) (Tasmania, Early Oligocene)
- Nothofagus bulbosa (extinct) (Tasmania, Early Oligocene)
- Subgenus uncertain
- Nothofagus beardmorensis (extinct) (Antarctica, either ~3 million or ~15 million years old), see Antarctica#Neogene Period (23–0.05 mya) and Meyer Desert Formation biota
It was recently proposed that the generic classification of the Nothofagaceae should be revised, with the four subgenera elevated to full genera. This proposed change is not taxonomically essential  and has not been accepted outside New Zealand.
The pattern of distribution around the southern Pacific Rim suggests the dissemination of the genus dates to the time when Antarctica, Australia, and South America were connected in a common land-mass or supercontinent referred to as Gondwana. However, genetic evidence using molecular dating methods has been used to argue that the species in New Zealand and New Caledonia evolved from species that arrived in these landmasses by dispersal across oceans. There is uncertainty in molecular dates and controversy rages as to whether the distribution of Nothofagus derives from the break-up of Gondwana (i.e. vicariance), or if there has been long distance dispersal across oceans. In South America the northern limit of the genus can be construed as La Campana National Park and the Vizcachas Mountains in the central part of Chile.
Every four to six years or so, Nothofagus produces a heavier crop of seeds and is known as the beech mast. In New Zealand, the beech mast causes an increase in the population of introduced mammals such as mice, rats, and stoats. When the rodent population collapses, the stoats begin to prey on native bird species, many of which are threatened with extinction. This phenomenon is covered in more detail in the article on stoats in New Zealand.
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- Nothofagus beardmorensis Nothofagaceae, a new species based on leaves from the Pliocene Sirius Group, Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica
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- Native Forest Network (2003) Gondwana Forest Sanctuary
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- C. Michael Hogan (2008) Chilean Wine Palm: Jubaea chilensis, GlobalTwitcher.com, ed. Nicklas Stromberg Archived 2012-10-17 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Beech forest: Native plants". Department of Conservation. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
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