Fossil Study Reveals Surprising Link to Sedge Plant Family

Greg Howard
8th June, 2024

Fossil Study Reveals Surprising Link to Sedge Plant Family

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study from Turin University analyzed fossil fruits of the sedge genus Carex using advanced microscopy techniques
  • Researchers identified a fossil from the Miocene of Siberia as belonging to Carex sect. Cyperoideae, based on silica body impressions
  • This finding suggests Carex sect. Cyperoideae has been present in the Old World since the Miocene, challenging previous DNA-based hypotheses of a North American origin
Understanding the evolutionary history of plant species is crucial for grasping how they have adapted to changing environments over millions of years. A recent study from Turin University delves into this by investigating fossil fruits of the sedge genus Carex, specifically focusing on elongated biconvex fruits that have been found in various fossil assemblages[1]. These fossils have been a subject of debate regarding their taxonomic classification, with previous studies suggesting affinities to different extant Carex species or groups. The study used advanced microscopy techniques, including stereomicroscope and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), to analyze the microscopic characters of these fossils, some of which are remarkably well-preserved. This detailed analysis allowed the researchers to identify fine silica body morphologies—tiny structures within the fruit walls that are crucial for taxonomic classification. One significant finding was the identification of a fossil from the Miocene of Siberia as belonging to Carex sect. Cyperoideae, based on these silica body impressions. This discovery is pivotal because it supports the hypothesis that Carex sect. Cyperoideae has been present in the Old World since the Miocene epoch, roughly 23 to 5 million years ago. This contrasts with previous DNA-based reconstructions that suggested a North American origin for this section. The study highlights the importance of integrating fossil data with molecular analyses to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of plant biogeography and evolution. The research also revisited earlier classifications of these fossils. Previous studies had placed some of these fossil fruits in subgen. Euthyceras, specifically Carex pauciflora, based on superficial similarities[2]. However, the new detailed microscopic examination revealed that the epidermal cell outlines and central silica body positions were inconsistent with subgen. Euthyceras, thereby refuting these earlier classifications. This demonstrates the necessity of detailed morphological studies in fossil identification, as superficial resemblances can be misleading. The study's findings are consistent with earlier research that emphasizes the role of detailed morphological analysis in paleobotany. For instance, previous work on the Carex flava species complex showed that morphological features could be a result of convergent evolution, where different species evolve similar traits independently due to similar environmental pressures[3]. This underscores the complexity of using morphology alone for taxonomic classification and the need for comprehensive approaches that include both morphological and molecular data. Moreover, the study's approach aligns with earlier efforts to integrate fossil records into phylogenetic analyses to better understand plant evolution. For example, research on the basal asterid order Cornales demonstrated that including fossils in phylogenetic studies significantly enhances the resolution of evolutionary relationships[2]. Similarly, the current study from Turin University shows that detailed fossil analysis can provide critical insights into the evolutionary history of Carex, contributing to a more nuanced understanding of its biogeographic history. In conclusion, this study from Turin University demonstrates the importance of detailed taxonomic studies in accurately identifying fossil remains and reconstructing the evolutionary history of plant species. By using advanced microscopic techniques, the researchers were able to provide new insights into the long-standing presence of Carex sect. Cyperoideae in the Old World, challenging previous DNA-based hypotheses and underscoring the complex interplay between morphology and molecular data in understanding plant evolution.

EcologyPlant ScienceEvolution


Main Study

1) Macro- and micromorphology of Carex pauciflora-type fossils (Cyperaceae) from Europe and Siberia reveals unexpected affinity to Carex sect. Cyperoideae

Published 7th June, 2024

Related Studies

2) The critical role of fossils in inferring deep-node phylogenetic relationships and macroevolutionary patterns in Cornales.

3) Cut from the same cloth: The convergent evolution of dwarf morphotypes of the Carex flava group (Cyperaceae) in Circum-Mediterranean mountains.

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