The collection and study of dispersed angiosperm fruits and seeds
The collection and study of dispersed angiosperm fruits and seeds (in Botanical Society of America, Paleobotanical Section, workshop on Phytodebris, Bruce H. Tiffney (convener))
Palaios (December 1990) 5 (6): 499-519
The study of fossil fruits and seeds (Paleocarpology) developed in Europe and has seen increased international application in recent years. Dispersed fruits and seeds accumulate in both active and quiet sedimentary environments. Collection involves developing a search image for beds of finely to coarsely divided plant material, collecting appropriate samples, and separating the plant material and matrix in the field or in the laboratory. These fossils are most commonly three-dimensional compactions of original organic material, but may also be permineralized. The greatest physical difficulty is encountered in disaggregating the matrix; indurated sands and muds may be broken up by a variety of mild to drastic chemical means. Lithified samples may be impossible to disaggregate without hydrofluoric acid. Individual fossils may be studied morphologically or anatomically as required. There is no developed literature to provide the beginner with keys to the recognition of major groups and the identification of taxa. A limited supply of illustrated guides to seed morphology and anatomy of modern taxa exists, largely concerning the temperate Northern Hemisphere flora. Much of identification must be through comparison with previously-published material, backed up by examination of herbarium specimens. Fruits and seeds often sample an aspect of the flora and vegetation not represented by other organs (leaves, wood), and thus expand our knowledge of communities and plants of the past. They also offer insight into dispersal biology and community ecology. Recognition of the value of these fossils and of the mode of their occurrence by the paleontological community can only yield more data and enhance integration between paleontological specialties, resulting in better knowledge of the whole organism.