A Charcoalified Ovule Adapted for Wind Dispersal and Deterring Herbivory from the Late Viséan (Carboniferous) of Scotland

Andrew Cunningham Scott, Jason Hilton, Jean Galtier, Marco Stampanoni

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Premise of research. Mississippian (Lower Carboniferous) anatomically preserved ovules are pivotal to our present understanding of the Paleozoic primary seed plant radiation, but few are known from the late Viséan stratigraphic interval approximately 330 million years ago. Here, we document an exceptionally well-preserved mesoscopic charcoalified ovule from late Viséan limestones that is adapted for wind dispersal and for deterring herbivory.
Methodology. We use synchrotron radiation X-ray tomographic microscopy (SRXTM) and low-vacuum scanning electron microscopy (LVSEM) to analyze histological features not identifiable through traditional methods.
Pivotal results. The ovule is small, 2 mm long and 1.25 mm in maximum diameter, and has a dense covering of spirally arranged, long, slender, hollow hairs with glandular apexes and a distal papilla. The nucellus is fused to the integument up to the nucellar apex, and above this, the integument comprises eight apical lobes, each with a single vascular bundle. The nucellar apex has a domed pollen chamber and large central column characteristic of hydrasperman-type (lagenostomalean) pteridosperms, but it lacks the distal salpinx seen in most hydrasperman ovules, leaving an exposed distal opening to the pollen chamber for pollination. Differences with existing taxa lead to the erection of Hirsutisperma rothwellii gen. et sp. nov.
Conclusions. The apical glands presumably functioned as granivory deterrents; coprolites (fossilized feces) from herbivorous arthropods are abundant in the fossiliferous horizon and at this stratigraphic interval. The small ovule size and its dense covering of hairs indicate Hirsutisperma was adapted for wind dispersal and was an r-selected species, producing large numbers of small offspring in unstable or changing environments. Taphonomic implications are discussed, including preservational biases for charcoalification. Hirsutisperma provides the first clear evidence for ecological niche partitioning in Mississippian hydrasperman-type ovules.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1058-5893/2019/18009-0012
Pages (from-to)1059-1074
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Plant Sciences
Issue number9
Early online date11 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019

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