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Resistant tissues of modern marchantioid liverworts resemble enigmatic Early Paleozoic microfossils

By Linda E. Graham, Lee W. Wilcox, Martha E. Cook and Patricia G. Gensel


Absence of a substantial pretracheophyte fossil record for bryophytes (otherwise predicted by molecular systematics) poses a major problem in our understanding of earliest land-plant structure. In contrast, there exist enigmatic Cambrian–Devonian microfossils (aggregations of tubes or sheets of cells or possibly a combination of both) controversially interpreted as an extinct group of early land plants known as nematophytes. We used an innovative approach to explore these issues: comparison of tube and cell-sheet microfossils with experimentally degraded modern liverworts as analogues of ancient early land plants. Lower epidermal surface tissues, including rhizoids, of Marchantia polymorpha and Conocephalum conicum were resistant to breakdown after rotting for extended periods or high-temperature acid treatment (acetolysis), suggesting fossilization potential. Cell-sheet and rhizoid remains occurred separately or together depending on the degree of body degradation. Rhizoid break-off at the lower epidermal surface left rimmed pores at the centers of cell rosettes; these were similar in structure, diameter, and distribution to pores characterizing nematophyte cell-sheet microfossils known as Cosmochlaina. The range of Marchantia rhizoid diameters overlapped that of Cosmochlaina pores. Approximately 14% of dry biomass of Marchantia vegetative thalli and 40% of gametangiophores was resistant to acetolysis. Pre- and posttreatment cell-wall autofluorescence suggested the presence of phenolic compounds that likely protect lower epidermal tissues from soil microbe attack and provide dimensional stability to gametangiophores. Our results suggest that at least some microfossils identified as nematophytes may be the remains of early marchantioid liverworts similar in some ways to modern Marchantia and Conocephalum

Topics: Biological Sciences
Publisher: National Academy of Sciences
Year: 2004
DOI identifier: 10.1073/pnas.0400484101
OAI identifier:
Provided by: PubMed Central
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