The Chicxulub bolide impact caused the end-Cretaceous mass extinction of plants, but the associated selectivity and ecological effects are poorly known. Using a unique set of North Dakota leaf fossil assemblages spanning 2.2 Myr across the event, we show among angiosperms a reduction of ecological strategies and selection for fast-growth strategies consistent with a hypothesized recovery from an impact winter. Leaf mass per area (carbon investment) decreased in both mean and variance, while vein density (carbon assimilation rate) increased in mean, consistent with a shift towards "fast" growth strategies. Plant extinction from the bolide impact resulted in a shift in functional trait space that likely had broad consequences for ecosystem functioning.
Relationships of leaf size and shape (physiognomy) with climate have been well characterized for woody non-monocotyledonous angiosperms (dicots), allowing the development of models for estimating paleoclimate from fossil leaves. More recently, petiole width of seed plants has been shown to scale closely with leaf mass. By measuring petiole width and leaf area in fossils, leaf mass per area (MA) can be estimated and an approximate leaf life span inferred. However, little is known about these relationships in ferns, a clade with a deep fossil record and with the potential to greatly expand the applicability of these proxies.
Early flowering plants are thought to have been woody species restricted to warm habitats. This lineage has since radiated into almost every climate, with manifold growth forms. As angiosperms spread and climate changed, they evolved mechanisms to cope with episodic freezing. To explore the evolution of traits underpinning the ability to persist in freezing conditions, we assembled a large species-level database of growth habit (woody or herbaceous; 49,064 species), as well as leaf phenology (evergreen or deciduous), diameter of hydraulic conduits (that is, xylem vessels and tracheids) and climate occupancies (exposure to freezing). To model the evolution of species traits and climate occupancies, we combined these data with an unparalleled dated molecular phylogeny (32,223 species) for land plants. Here we show that woody clades successfully moved into freezing-prone environments by either possessing transport networks of small safe conduits and/or shutting down hydraulic function by dropping leaves during freezing. Herbaceous species largely avoided freezing periods by senescing cheaply constructed aboveground tissue. Growth habit has long been considered labile, but we find that growth habit was less labile than climate occupancy. Additionally, freezing environments were largely filled by lineages that had already become herbs or, when remaining woody, already had small conduits (that is, the trait evolved before the climate occupancy). By contrast, most deciduous woody lineages had an evolutionary shift to seasonally shedding their leaves only after exposure to freezing (that is, the climate occupancy evolved before the trait). For angiosperms to inhabit novel cold environments they had to gain new structural and functional trait solutions; our results suggest that many of these solutions were probably acquired before their foray into the cold.
Models generally predict a response in species richness to climate, but strong climate-diversity associations are seldom observed in long-term (more than 10(6) years) fossil records. Moreover, fossil studies rarely distinguish between the effects of atmospheric CO2 and temperature, which limits their ability to identify the causal controls on biodiversity. Plants are excellent organisms for testing climate-diversity hypotheses owing to their strong sensitivity to CO2, temperature and moisture. We find that pollen morphospecies richness in an angiosperm-dominated record from the Palaeogene and early Neogene (65-20 Ma) of Colombia and Venezuela correlates positively to CO2 much more strongly than to temperature (both tropical sea surface temperatures and estimates of global mean surface temperature). The weaker sensitivity to temperature may be due to reduced variance in long-term climate relative to in higher latitudes, or to the occurrence of lethal or sub-lethal temperatures during the warmest times of the Eocene. Physiological models predict that productivity should be the most sensitive to CO2 within the angiosperms, a prediction supported by our analyses if productivity is linked to species richness; however, evaluations of non-angiosperm assemblages are needed to more completely test this idea.
• Paleobotanists have long used models based on leaf size and shape to reconstruct paleoclimate. However, most models incorporate a single variable or use traits that are not physiologically or functionally linked to climate, limiting their predictive power. Further, they often underestimate paleotemperature relative to other proxies. • Here we quantify leaf-climate correlations from 92 globally distributed, climatically diverse sites, and explore potential confounding factors. Multiple linear regression models for mean annual temperature (MAT) and mean annual precipitation (MAP) are developed and applied to nine well-studied fossil floras. • We find that leaves in cold climates typically have larger, more numerous teeth, and are more highly dissected. Leaf habit (deciduous vs evergreen), local water availability, and phylogenetic history all affect these relationships. Leaves in wet climates are larger and have fewer, smaller teeth. Our multivariate MAT and MAP models offer moderate improvements in precision over univariate approaches (± 4.0 vs 4.8°C for MAT) and strong improvements in accuracy. For example, our provisional MAT estimates for most North American fossil floras are considerably warmer and in better agreement with independent paleoclimate evidence. • Our study demonstrates that the inclusion of additional leaf traits that are functionally linked to climate improves paleoclimate reconstructions. This work also illustrates the need for better understanding of the impact of phylogeny and leaf habit on leaf-climate relationships.
Many key aspects of early angiosperms are poorly known, including their ecophysiology and associated habitats. Evidence for fast-growing, weedy angiosperms comes from the Early Cretaceous Potomac Group, where angiosperm fossils, some of them putative herbs, are found in riparian depositional settings. However, inferences of growth rate from sedimentology and growth habit are somewhat indirect; also, the geographic extent of a weedy habit in early angiosperms is poorly constrained. Using a power law between petiole width and leaf mass, we estimated the leaf mass per area (LMA) of species from three Albian (110-105 Ma) fossil floras from North America (Winthrop Formation, Patapsco Formation of the Potomac Group, and the Aspen Shale). All LMAs for angiosperm species are low (<125 g/m(2); mean = 76 g/m(2)) but are high for gymnosperm species (>240 g/m(2); mean = 291 g/m(2)). On the basis of extant relationships between LMA and other leaf economic traits such as photosynthetic rate and leaf lifespan, we conclude that these Early Cretaceous landscapes were populated with weedy angiosperms with short-lived leaves (<12 mo). The unrivalled capacity for fast growth observed today in many angiosperms was in place by no later than the Albian and likely played an important role in their subsequent ecological success.
Both phenotypic plasticity and genetic determination can be important for understanding how plants respond to environmental change. However, little is known about the plastic response of leaf teeth and leaf dissection to temperature. This gap is critical because these leaf traits are commonly used to reconstruct paleoclimate from fossils, and such studies tacitly assume that traits measured from fossils reflect the environment at the time of their deposition, even during periods of rapid climate change. We measured leaf size and shape in Acer rubrum derived from four seed sources with a broad temperature range and grown for two years in two gardens with contrasting climates (Rhode Island and Florida). Leaves in the Rhode Island garden have more teeth and are more highly dissected than leaves in Florida from the same seed source. Plasticity in these variables accounts for at least 6-19% of the total variance, while genetic differences among ecotypes probably account for at most 69-87%. This study highlights the role of phenotypic plasticity in leaf-climate relationships. We suggest that variables related to tooth count and leaf dissection in A. rubrum can respond quickly to climate change, which increases confidence in paleoclimate methods that use these variables.
Teeth are conspicuous features of many leaves. The percentage of species in a flora with toothed leaves varies inversely with temperature, but other ecological controls are less known. This gap is critical because leaf teeth may be influenced by water availability and growth potential and because fossil tooth characters are widely used to reconstruct paleoclimate. Here, we test whether ecological attributes related to disturbance, water availability, and growth strategy influence the distribution of toothed species at 227 sites from Australian subtropical rainforest. Both the percentage and abundance of toothed species decline continuously from riparian to ridge-top habitats in our most spatially resolved sample, a result not related to phylogenetic correlation of traits. Riparian lianas are generally untoothed and thus do not contribute to the trend, and there is little association between toothed riparian species and ecological attributes indicating early successional lifestyle and disturbance response. Instead, the pattern is best explained by differences in water availability. Toothed species proportional richness declines with proximity to the coast, also a likely effect of water availability because salt stress causes physiological drought. Our study highlights water availability as an important factor impacting the distribution of toothed species across landscapes, with significance for paleoclimate reconstructions.
The degree of leaf dissection and the presence of leaf teeth, along with tooth size and abundance, inversely correlate with mean annual temperature (MAT) across many plant communities. These relationships form the core of several methods for reconstructing MAT from fossils, yet the direct selection of temperature on tooth morphology has not been demonstrated experimentally. It is also not known if atmospheric CO(2) concentration affects leaf shape, limiting confidence in ancient climate reconstructions because CO(2) has varied widely on geologic timescales. Here I report the results of growing Acer rubrum (red maple) in growth cabinets at contrasting temperature and CO(2) conditions. The CO(2) treatment imparted no significant differences in leaf size and shape, while plants grown at cooler temperatures tended to have more teeth and more highly dissected leaves. These results provide direct evidence for the selection of temperature on leaf shape in one species, and support a key link in many leaf-climate methods. More broadly, these results increase confidence for using leaf shape in fossils to reconstruct paleoclimate.
Leaf-margin state (toothed vs. untoothed) forms the basis of several popular methods for reconstructing temperature. Some potential confounding factors have not been investigated with large data sets, limiting our understanding of the adaptive significance of leaf teeth and their reliability to reconstruct paleoclimate. Here we test the strength of correlations between leaf-margin state and deciduousness, leaf thickness, wood type (ring-porous vs. diffuse-porous), height within community, and several leaf economic variables.
Ocean acidification may have severe consequences for marine ecosystems; however, assessing its future impact is difficult because laboratory experiments and field observations are limited by their reduced ecologic complexity and sample period, respectively. In contrast, the geological record contains long-term evidence for a variety of global environmental perturbations, including ocean acidification plus their associated biotic responses. We review events exhibiting evidence for elevated atmospheric CO(2), global warming, and ocean acidification over the past ~300 million years of Earths history, some with contemporaneous extinction or evolutionary turnover among marine calcifiers. Although similarities exist, no past event perfectly parallels future projections in terms of disrupting the balance of ocean carbonate chemistry-a consequence of the unprecedented rapidity of CO(2) release currently taking place.
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