Under Pressure? Epicormic Shoots and Traumatic Growth Zones in High-Latitude Triassic Trees From East Antarctica

Ann Bot. 2018 Mar 14;121(4):681-689. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcx199.


Background and aims: Investigating the biology of trees that were growing at high latitudes during warmer geological periods is key to understanding the functioning of both past and future forest ecosystems. The aim of this study is to report the first co-occurrence of epicormic shoots and traumatic growth zones in fossil trees from the Triassic of Antarctica and to discuss their biological and environmental implications.

Methods: Permineralized woods bearing scars of epicormic shoots were collected from the Triassic Fremouw Formation in Gordon Valley, Central Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica in 2010. Samples from different portions of three specimens were prepared using standard thin section and hydrofluoric (HF) acid peel techniques, and anatomical details were studied in transmitted light.

Key results: The fossil woods represent the outer part of trunks, with at least 40 growth rings that are 0.2-4.8 mm in width. Anatomical comparisons suggest that they represent a new tree taxon for the Triassic of Antarctica. Numerous small epicormic shoots can be seen crossing the wood almost horizontally and are locally branched. Each specimen also contains several occurrences of traumatic growth zones located in the early wood, in the cells produced either at the very start of the growing season or slightly later.

Conclusions: This is the first report of epicormic shoots and traumatic growth zones in the wood of a Triassic tree from Antarctica. Their co-occurrence indicates that these trees from Gordon Valley were subjected to environmental stresses not seen in Triassic trees previously described from this region. This suggests that they had a different biology and/or were growing in a different habitat, which offers a new glimpse into the diversity of high-latitude trees in the Triassic greenhouse climate.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antarctic Regions
  • Ecosystem
  • Fossils
  • History, Ancient
  • Plant Shoots / growth & development
  • Plant Stems / growth & development
  • Trees* / growth & development
  • Wood / growth & development