This study uses a molecular-dating approach to test hypotheses about the biogeography of Nothofagus. The molecular modelling suggests that the present-day subgenera and species date from a radiation that most likely commenced between 55 and 40 Myr ago. This rules out the possibility of a reconciled all-vicariance hypothesis for the biogeography of extant Nothofagus. However, the molecular dates for divergences between Australasian and South American taxa are consistent with the rifting of Australia and South America from Antarctica. The molecular dates further suggest a dispersal of subgenera Lophozonia and Fuscospora between Australia and New Zealand after the onset of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and west wind drift. It appears likely that the New Caledonian lineage of subgenus Brassospora diverged from the New Guinean lineage elsewhere, prior to colonizing New Caledonia.
The molecular approach strongly supports fossil-based estimates that Nothofagus diverged from the rest of Fagales more than 84 Myr ago. However, the mid-Cenozoic estimate for the diversification of the four extant subgenera conflicts with the palynological interpretation because pollen fossils, attributed to all four extant subgenera, were widespread across the Weddellian province of Gondwana about 71 Myr ago. The discrepancy between the pollen and molecular dates exists even when confidence intervals from several sources of error are taken into account. In contrast, the molecular age estimates are consistent with macrofossil dates. The incongruence between pollen fossils and molecular dates could be resolved if the early pollen types represent extinct lineages, with similar types later evolving independently in the extant lineages.