Topic: Emerging Leader Lecture - Selena Smith
The fossil record of plants is sometimes challenging to study and interpret, but offers us a wealth of information regarding plant systematics, structure and development, evolution, and ecology, as well as insights into the evolution of terrestrial environments as a whole. The monocot flowering plants are both economically and ecologically important, making it relevant to understanding their biology and evolution on both human and geologic time scales. Case studies from fossil monocots serve to highlight challenges and solutions to studying them as well as the important information gained. Fruits and seeds can be complex and distinctive, offering a high number of taxonomically and phylogenetically informative characters to study. The application of X-ray tomography to both fossil and modern specimens has greatly enhanced the amount of morphoanatomical data that can be obtained, with numerous benefits including being rapid, non-destructive and three-dimensional. This technique has permitted a better understanding of species diversity in floras (e.g., the Cretaceous Deccan Intertrappean Beds of India and Eocene Messel flora of Germany), as well as re-evaluating the fossil record of groups such as Zingiberales to test hypotheses on their evolutionary history and biogeography. Leaf fossils may be more common and abundant than fruits and seeds in many floras, but lack as many taxonomically distinctive features. However, monocot leaf architecture is more diverse than often given credit for. Preliminary results will highlight the array of venation patterns as well as application of quantitative analysis of vein length per area that will help to refine the foliar fossil record of monocots. All together, there is much to be optimistic about in terms of building a more reliable fossil record that will serve to provide hard data on past diversity, disparity, and occurrences.
Dead plants tell no lies: insights from the fossil record of monocots.