Schmeissneria: A missing link to angiosperms?
1 State Key Laboratory of Palaeobiology and Stratigraphy, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 39 Beijing Dong Road, Nanjing 210008, China
2 Institute of Botany, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 20 Nanxincun, Xiangshan, Beijing 100093, China
BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:14 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-14Published: 7 February 2007
The origin of angiosperms has been under debate since the time of Darwin. While there has been much speculation in past decades about pre-Cretaceous angiosperms, including Archaefructus, these reports are controversial. The earliest reliable fossil record of angiosperms remains restricted to the Cretaceous, even though recent molecular phylogenetic studies suggest an origin for angiosperms much earlier than the current fossil record.
In this paper, after careful SEM and light microscopic work, we report fossils with angiospermous traits of the Jurassic age. The fossils were collected from the Haifanggou Formation (middle Jurassic) in western Liaoning, northeast China. They include two female structures and an associated leaf on the same slab. One of the female structures is physically connected to the apex of a short shoot. The female organs are borne in pairs on short peduncles that are arranged along the axis of the female structure. Each of the female organs has a central unit that is surrounded by an envelope with characteristic longitudinal ribs. Each central unit has two locules completely separated by a vertical septum. The apex of the central unit is completely closed. The general morphology places these fossils into the scope of Schmeissneria, an early Jurassic genus that was previously attributed to Ginkgoales.
Because the closed carpel is a character only found in angiosperms, the closed apex of the central unit suggests the presence of angiospermy in Schmeissneria. This angiospermous trait implies either a Jurassic angiosperm or a new seed plant group parallel to angiosperms and other known seed plants. As an angiosperm, the Liassic age (earliest Jurassic) of Schmeissneria microstachys would suggest an origin of angiosperms during the Triassic. Although still uncertain, this could have a great impact on our perspective of the history, diversity and systematics of seed plants and angiosperms.