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Molecular signatures of fossil leaves provide unexpected new evidence for extinct plant relationships.

  • Vivi Vajda
  • Milda Pucetaite
  • Stephen McLoughlin
  • Anders Engdahl
  • Jimmy Heimdal
  • Per Uvdal
Publishing year: 2017-07-03
Language: English
Pages: 1033-1099
Publication/Series: Nature Ecology and Evolution
Volume: 1
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group

Abstract english

Gene sequences form the primary basis for understanding the relationships among extant plant groups, but genetic data are unavailable from fossils to evaluate the affinities of extinct taxa. Here we show that geothermally resistant fossil cuticles of seed-bearing plants, analysed with Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy and hierarchical cluster analysis (HCA), retain biomolecular suites that consistently distinguish major taxa even after experiencing different diagenetic histories. Our results reveal that similarities between the cuticular biochemical signatures of major plant groups (extant and fossil) are mostly consistent with recent phylogenetic hypotheses based on molecular and morphological data. Our novel chemotaxonomic data also support the hypothesis that the extinct Nilssoniales and Bennettitales are closely allied, but only distantly related to Cycadales. The chemical signature of the cuticle of Czekanowskia (Leptostrobales) is strongly similar to that of Ginkgo leaves and supports a close evolutionary relationship between these groups. Finally, our results also reveal that the extinct putative araucariacean, Allocladus, when analysed through HCA, is grouped closer to Ginkgoales than to conifers. Thus, in the absence of modern relatives yielding molecular information, FTIR spectroscopy provides valuable proxy biochemical data complementing morphological characters to distinguish fossil taxa and to help elucidate extinct plant relationships.


  • Geology
  • Biogeochemistry Biological techniques Evolution Palaeontology


  • ISSN: 2397-334X
Milda Pucetaite. Photo.
E-mail: milda [dot] pucetaite [at] cec [dot] lu [dot] se


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