The microfossil record of early land plants

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2000 Jun 29;355(1398):717-31; discussion 731-2. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2000.0612.


Dispersed microfossils (spores and phytodebris) provide the earliest evidence for land plants. They are first reported from the Llanvirn (Mid-Ordovician). More or less identical assemblages occur from the Llanvirn (Mid-Ordovician) to the late Llandovery (Early Silurian), suggesting a period of relative stasis some 40 Myr in duration. Various lines of evidence suggest that these early dispersed microfossils derive from parent plants that were bryophyte-like if not in fact bryophytes. In the late Llandovery (late Early Silurian) there was a major change in the nature of dispersed spore assemblages as the separated products of dyads (hilate monads) and tetrads (trilete spores) became relatively abundant. The inception of trilete spores probably represents the appearance of vascular plants or their immediate progenitors. A little later in time, in the Wenlock (early Late Silurian), the earliest unequivocal land plant megafossils occur. They are represented by rhyniophytoids. It is only from the Late Silurian onwards that the microfossil/ megafossil record can be integrated and utilized in interpretation of the flora. Dispersed microfossils are preserved in vast numbers, in a variety of environments, and have a reasonable spatial and temporal fossil record. The fossil record of plant megafossils by comparison is poor and biased, with only a dozen or so known pre-Devonian assemblages. In this paper, the early land plant microfossil record, and its interpretation, are reviewed. New discoveries, novel techniques and fresh lines of inquiry are outlined and discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Fossils*
  • Plants*