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Can the morphology of fossil leaves tell us how early flowering plants grew?
Date:3/23/2010

allows them to be more opportunistic."

The authors measured the petioles and leaf areas of 93 species of living conifers and 58 species of herbaceous angiosperms and compared the resulting leaf mass per areas to those of previously published woody angiosperms. They found that these three groups could be distinguished based on their leaf mass per areas: for a given petiole width, herbaceous herbs tended to have 43%-75% lower leaf mass per area than woody angiosperms, and conifers had 19%-58% higher leaf mass per area than woody angiosperms.

The beauty of this methodology is that leaf petiole width and leaf area are measurable in many fossil specimens. Royer stated that they then used this methodology to "estimate the leaf mass per area for some of the oldest known angiosperm leaf fossils." They measured 179 fossil specimens representing 30 species from three Albian (110-105 Ma) sites across the United States.

"The majority of the fossils measured in our study have low leaf mass per area," noted Royer, supporting the idea that early angiosperms were fast-growing species similar to the flora found in riparian habitats today. If a similar relationship as today is assumed, then all of the fossil angiosperm species had leaf lifespans of less than 12 months. "This means the unrivalled capacity for fast growth observed today in many angiosperms was in place by no later than the Albian (110 Ma ago)."

"While this doesn't tell us anything directly about the earliest angiospermsthe oldest angiosperm pollen is around 140 Ma oldthe Albian marks the time when angiosperms begin to be very diverse and important ecologically," Royer concludes. "It is likely that explosive growth is one reason for the success of angiosperms."


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Contact: Richard Hund
rhund@botany.org
314-577-9557
American Journal of Botany
Source:Eurekalert  

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