New publication!

Functional traits of fossil plants

Led by Prof. McElwain, the ERC-funded TERRAFORM project team recently published a comprehensive review “Functional Traits of Fossil Plants” in the New Phytologist. The review took a unique approach, evaluating which extant plant traits offer the greatest promise for application to fossils through contemporary trait-based ecology. The focus was placed on plant functional traits and measurable properties of fossils that provide insights into the functioning of the plants in past environments.

Taking into consideration the limitations of a trait-based approach in palaeobotany, the team together with collaborators assessed over 30 extant traits in palaeobotany and ranked 26 paleo-functional traits based on taphonomic and methodological criteria that can potentially impact Earth system processes. The Tansley Review offers a new perspective on the study of extinct plants and brings insights into their functioning in the past.

The open-access publication is available online under this link.

Figures from the publication:

Figure 1. The methodological framework used to critically evaluate 30 contemporary plant traits (from Pérez-Harguindeguy et al., 2013) for their potential application to the plant fossil record as paleo-functional traits.

Figure 2. Examples of fossil plant functional traits.

Figure 3. Comparison of paleo-functional trait scores according to different weighting criteria.

Are plants Ecosystem Engineers?

Will Matthaeus presents a case to the International Biogeography Society in Prague

In the frosty early days of January, Dr Will Matthaeus went to Prague to deliver a talk at the Ecosystem Engineering Symposium organized by Kate Lyons and Amelia Villaseñor at the 11th Biennial Conference of International Biogeography Society (IBS). In a session covering everything from Edicarian bioturbation to anthropogenic impacts and rewilding—500 million years of ecosystem engineering—Will presented plants as a foundational aspect of terrestrial ecosystems and classic examples of ecosystem and landscape reorganization with plant evolutionary changes (e.g., ‘The Devonian Plant Hypothesis’). The earliest plants were little more than ‘green slime.’  These small, prostrate organisms that were limited to wet environments may still have impacted global ecosystems by altering atmospheric oxygen concentrations.  Over the course of the evolutionary transformations that led from green slime to boreal forests and savannahs, plants have likely increased the diversity and maximum effect in their impact on ecosystems. Synthesis of paleo-plant traits, among other paleontological techniques, may provide insight into this function over periods of change, upheaval, and extinction in terrestrial environments that are informative for our future. However, understanding these changes requires expertise in a broad variety of disciplines; IBS meetings are a valuable opportunity for developing the frontiers of paleoecology through new collaborations.