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Megaspores of an early Miocene aquatic lycopod (Isoetales) from Antarctica

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2016
Authors:D. J. Cantrill, Ashworth, A. C., Lewis, A. R.

The paucity of late Paleogene and Neogene floras from Antarctica limits our ability to understand the interplay between Antarctic climate evolution and the impact that glaciation had on the vegetation, in particular, how the vegetation changed from temperate Eocene forests, to today’s sparse vegetation. Fluvial and lacustrine strata deposited in a wet-based glacial sequence (Friis Hills, McMurdo Dry Valley sector, Transantarctic Mountains) have yielded abundant megaspores. These strata are early Miocene based on correlation with a volcanic ash dated at 19.76 ± 0.11 Ma. The megaspores are up to 736 μm in diameter with well-developed wing-like laesurae and equatorial zona. The morphology is consistent with extant Isoetes, and demonstrates the presence of Lycopsida and the Isoetaceae within Antarctic Miocene floras. Today, Isoetes is widespread from the Tropics to the Arctic such as Greenland (I. echinospora, I. lacustris) and from marginal marine (I. ekmanii) to high altitudinal environments (I. lechleri), though commonly associated with lacustrine or aquatic environments. The fossil spores occur in fluvial and lacustrine beds, suggesting the parent plants were aquatics. The occurrence together with mosses and Nothofagus leaves points to persistent vegetation in the early Miocene of Antarctica.

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