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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Oldest record of Trimeniaceae from the Early Cretaceous of northern Japan

Toshihiro Yamada1*, Harufumi Nishida2, Masayoshi Umebayashi1, Kazuhiko Uemura3 and Masahiro Kato4

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Life Sciences, Graduate School of Natural Science and Technology, Kanazawa University, Kanazawa 920-1192, Japan

2 Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University, Tokyo 112-8551, Japan

3 Department of Geology and Paleontology, National Museum of Nature and Science, 3-23-1 Hyakunincho, Tokyo 169-0073, Japan

4 Department of Botany, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tsukuba 305-0005, Japan

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:135  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-135

Published: 8 May 2008

Abstract

Background

Molecular phylogenetic analyses have identified Trimeniaceae, a monotypic family distributed only in Oceania, as among the earliest diverging families of extant angiosperms. Therefore, the fossils of this family are helpful to understand the earliest flowering plants. Paleobotanical information is also important to track the historical and geographical pathways to endemism of the Trimeniaceae. However, fossils of the family were previously unknown from the Early Cretaceous, the time when the angiosperm radiated. In this study, we report a seed from the late Albian (ca. 100 million years ago) of Japan representing the oldest known occurrence of Trimeniaceae and discuss the character evolution and biogeography of this family.

Results

A structurally preserved seed was collected from the early Late Albian Hikagenosawa Formation of the Yezo Group, which was deposited in palaeolatitudes of 35 to 40°N. The seed has a multilayered stony exotesta with alveolate surface, parenchymatous mesotesta, and operculate inner integument, which are characteristic to extant trimeniaceous seeds. However, the seed differs from extant seeds, i.e., in its well-developed endosperm and absence of antiraphal vascular bundle. Thus, the seed would be a new genus and species of Trimeniaceae.

Conclusion

The fossil seed indicates that seed coat characters were conserved for 100 million years or more in Trimeniaceae. It also suggests that the antiraphal vascular bundle and perispermy originated secondarily in Trimeniaceae as previously inferred from the phylogeny and character distribution in the extant basalmost angiosperms. The fossil seed provides the first evidence that Trimeniaceae was distributed in a midlatitude location of the Northern Hemisphere during the Early Cretaceous, when angiosperms radiated extensively, supporting a hypothesis that the extant austral distribution is relict.