Earliest records of three plant groups uncovered in the Permian of Jordan

December 28, 2018, University of Münster
Some of the fossil localities lie a long and strenuous hike up the wadis that cut the steep slopes of the Dead Sea coast. Credit: Palaeobotany Research Group Münster

A "hidden cradle of plant evolution" has been uncovered in Jordan. In Permian sedimentary rocks exposed along the east coast of the Dead Sea, a team led by palaeobotanists from the University of Münster discovered well-preserved fossils of plant groups bearing characteristics typical of younger periods of Earth history. The Permian began some 300 million years ago and ended around 250 million years ago. The researchers present their findings in this week's issue of Science.

The newly recovered fossils represent the earliest records of three major plant groups and reveal them to be much older than previously thought. Perhaps the most important finds are fossil twigs of the Podocarpaceae—today the second-largest family of conifers—making them the oldest fossil record of any living conifer family. Researchers also found leaves and reproductive organs of Corystospermaceae, a group of seed plants that went extinct some 150 million years ago, as well as remains of Bennettitales, a peculiar lineage of extinct seed plants with flower-like reproductive organs.

A mummified seed-fern frond flaking off a piece of mudrock after being exposed to the light of day for the first time in some 255 million years; well-preserved fossils like this from Permian sedimentary rocks exposed along the shore of the Dead Sea shed new light on the early origins of major seed-plant lineages. Credit: Palaeobotany Research Group

Evidence for the unexpectedly early occurrence of Corystospermaceae in the Permian of Jordan was first published about ten years ago by a led by Prof Dr. Hans Kerp. Since then, researchers have uncovered not only the well-preserved leaves but also the characteristic reproductive organs of this group of plants. Like Bennettitales and Podocarpaceae, these plants were believed to have evolved millions of years later during the Early Mesozoic.

The fossils are unusually well preserved. "Analysis of characteristic epidermal cell patterns enabled us to resolve the systematic relationships of the plant fossils more precisely," says Bomfleur. "The study area is really exceptional, like a melting pot of floral provinces." The plant fossils there occur in unusual mixed assemblages that consist of plant taxa typical for different floral regions.

The well-preserved plant cuticles are freed from the sedimentary rock using strong acid; after cleaning and bleaching, this isolated frond fragment of an extinct seed-fern can yield important biological and ecological information. Credit: Palaeobotany Research Group Münster

The occurrences were discovered in from seasonally drier environments of an equatorial coastal lowland—a type of environment that rarely preserves plant fossils. "The occurrence of no less than three major 'modern' plant groups in deposits of just this single rock formation may indicate that such stressed and disturbance-prone tropical environments may have acted as evolutionary cradles also for other plant groups," says Bomfleur.

Back in the lab, the team prepared the fossils using a variety of methods, including treatments with strong acids to prepare the plants' cuticles for detailed microscopic analysis.

Explore further: Paleontologists find fossil relative of Ginkgo biloba

More information: Patrick Blomenkemper et al. A hidden cradle of plant evolution in Permian tropical lowlands, Science (2018). DOI: 10.1126/science.aau4061

Related Stories

Paleontologists find fossil relative of Ginkgo biloba

March 7, 2017

A discovery of well-preserved fossil plants by paleontologists from the United States, China, Japan, Russia and Mongolia has allowed researchers to identify a distant relative of the living plant Ginkgo biloba.

Through fossil leaves, a step towards Jurassic Park

July 4, 2017

For the first time, researchers have succeeded in establishing the relationships between 200-million-year-old plants based on chemical fingerprints. Using infrared spectroscopy and statistical analysis of organic molecules ...

Revealed: the mother (and father) of all flowers

August 1, 2017

The first flower to appear along the path of plant evolution, during the time of the dinosaurs, was a hermaphrodite with petal-like organs arranged in concentric circles, researchers said Monday.

How plants evolved to make ants their servants

November 12, 2018

Plants are boring. They just sit there photosynthesizing while animals have all the fun. Right? Not so much. Take a look at the interactions between ants and plants—plants have evolved features specifically to make them ...

Recommended for you

Study: Social media sways exercise motivation

January 17, 2019

It's January – a time when students are looking for that extra bit of oomph. For some, time spent on social media might provide the necessary inspiration to get up and exercising – but that time can come with consequences, ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Pearlman_CTA
1 / 5 (2) Dec 30, 2018
Nice, fits well w/ RCCF framework for understanding science and TDC,
one might perhaps think links back to the head start by Eden where plants were in full stature and ready to eat from by day 5 or 6, prior to Adam praying for rain post eviction from Eden on week two, where vegetation had not yet breached the surface of land.
Also during the Mabul the eye of the storm/hurricane effect protected the top soil in the greater Israel area.
Either way it is evidence of the lush Eden like Jordan valley by where the Dead Sea is now until the destruction of Sodom and environs, 52 years post dispersion from babel, in 2047 anno mundi.
Reference 'RCCF framework' for understanding science, 'TDC chronology', and 'Plato's Atlantis legend, Abraham is the real Atlas'.
rrwillsj
not rated yet Jan 08, 2019
it is disgusting all these stuporstitious trolls shitting their dogma of ignorance all over a science forum

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.