Abstract

New morphometric data gathered from cross-sections of two Lower Devonian land plants (Rhynia gwynne-vaughanii and Asteroxylon mackiei) are interpreted in terms of the evolution of the function of vascular bundles in early land plants. The following conclusions can be drawn from these new data: (1) The ratio of the cross-sectional area of the xylem (representing the conducting volume supplying the axis with water) to the xylem perimeter (representing the “contact area” between xylem and parenchyma through which water leaves the xylem and enters the parenchyma) is not constant for Rhynia axes, almost constant for Asteroxylon axes, and different between Rhynia and Asteroxylon. Thus, Bower's hypothesis that the ratio of cross-sectional area of the xylem to xylem perimeter is constant during ontogenetic development is true for Asteroxylon. That this ratio is constant during phylogeny, however, is not supported by our data. (2) The ratio between cross-sectional area of xylem to parenchyma is higher in Asteroxylon than in Rhynia. (3) As predicted by previous computer simulations, the ratio of the xylem perimeter to the axis perimeter plays a major role in determining water transport performance of the transpiring axis. This ratio is constant within ontogeny but is different in Asteroxylon and Rhynia. In Asteroxylon axes, this ratio is about twice as large as in Rhynia axes. (4) Contrary to the expectations, the distance between the outermost layer of the xylem and the transpiring surface, which represents the low-conductivity pathway through the parenchyma, appears not to be a limiting factor for the water transport in axes of Rhynia and Asteroxylon. (5) From the analysis of the geometric parameters, it is evident that Rhynia and Asteroxylon with their distinct stelar geometries represent two different constructional types for which no transitional stages are known.

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