An organic geochemical perspective on terrestrialization
Published:January 01, 2010
Gerard J. M. Versteegh, Armelle Riboulleau, 2010. "An organic geochemical perspective on terrestrialization", The Terrestrialization Process: Modelling Complex Interactions at the Biosphere–Geosphere Interface, M. Vecoli, G. Clément, B. Meyer-Berthaud
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The colonization of land required new strategies for safe gamete/diaspore dispersal, and to cope with desiccation, harmful radiation, fire and gravity. Accordingly, the morphology, behaviour and physiology of the organisms changed. Here, we explore to what extent physiological adaptations, reflected in the molecular content of the sediments, add to our understanding of the terrestrialization. Many compounds considered characteristic of land organisms do not provide valuable information from the fossil record since (1) they were not preserved; (2) they occur or correspond to substances that evolved prior to the terrestrialization (e.g. cutan vs. algaenan, cellulose); or (3) they have been changed diagenetically and/or catagenetically. The latter leads to geo(macro)molecules without a chemical fingerprint relating them to their original bio(macro)molecules despite, sometimes, excellent morphological preservation of the organic remains. Nevertheless, some molecular markers and their stable isotopes provide independent information on the terrestrialization process. The odd predominance of n-alkane surface waxes is a feature already apparent in early land plants and could, with caution, be used as such. Furthermore, fossil terpenoids and their derivatives are valuable for reconstructing the evolution of major plant groups. The radiation of the phenylpropanoid pathway with for example, sporopollenin and lignin seems to be closely related to the evolution of land plants.
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The Terrestrialization Process: Modelling Complex Interactions at the Biosphere–Geosphere Interface
The invasion of the land by plants (‘terrestrialization’) was one of the most significant evolutionary events in the history of life on Earth, and correlates in time with periods of major palaeoenvironmental perturbations. The development of a vegetation cover on the previously barren land surfaces impacted on the global biogeochemical cycles and the geological processes of erosion and sediment transport. The terrestrialization of plants preceded the rise of major new groups of animals, such as insects and tetrapods, the latter numbering some 24 000 living species, including ourselves. Early land-plant evolution also correlates with the most spectacular decline of atmospheric CO2 concentration of Phanerozoic times and with the onset of a protracted period of glacial conditions on Earth. This book includes a selection of papers covering different aspects of the terrestrialization, from palaeobotany to vertebrate palaeontology and geochemistry, promoting a multidisciplinary approach to the understanding of the co-evolution of life and its environments during Early to Mid-Palaeozoic times.