Paleobotany: what it studies and its importance - Find out!

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Have you ever heard of plant fossils? Although the fossils of dinosaurs or other prehistoric animals are best known, throughout the geological ages of the Earth, many plants have undergone fossilization processes. These plant fossils have served to understand the characteristics of current plants and their studies are in charge of paleobotany, a science whose foundations mix principles of botany with paleontology.

To understand more about this curious science, from Ecologist Verde we invite you to read this great article about what studies paleobotany and its importance. In addition, we will develop the types of plant fossils that exist. If this topic is of interest to you, do not hesitate to continue reading.

What does paleobotany study

To better understand what paleobotany is, we will start with the definition of paleobotany, which is broadly defined as science that studies the fossil remains of plant species who lived in the past. So, as we mentioned in the introduction, paleobotany has its bases in paleontology and botany.

However, paleobotany studies are extensive, they include descriptive aspects of the anatomy and morphology of plant species, taxonomic aspects to evaluate relationships with other species, ecological aspects, on how species adapt to the ecosystem, phytogeographic aspects, related to the distribution of species and, last but not least, evolutionary aspects.

Here you can learn more about Branches of botany and what each one studies and about The origin and evolution of plants.

How Plants Fossilize

The fossil records of dinosaurs and other animals are possibly better known and named than plant fossils. However, there are many records plant fossils that, precisely, are the object of study of paleobotany.

As for how the fossilization process is, we can say that this is possible thanks to cell wall present only in plant cells. That is, unlike animals, plants present in their cells the so-called cell wall, which acts as an external skeleton, giving the cell a certain degree of rigidity. Furthermore, the cell wall is mainly made up of cellulose combined with hemicellulose and lignin, three compounds that do not easily degrade in nature, which constitutes a characteristic that favors the fossilization process. Here you can learn about the Parts of the plant cell.

Even so, plants can be fossilized in different ways, originating different types of plant fossil. In the next section we will develop the diversity of plant fossils that have been found in nature.

Types of plant fossils

As we mentioned in the previous section, fossilized plants are produced in different ways and give rise to different types of fossils. Let's see some of them here:

  • Permineralizations: It is a type of petrification in which plant cells are filled with a fluid composed of silica, or other minerals, which over time solidifies and becomes rock. In this way, the fossils are practically perfect since they preserve their shape, structure and, in some cases, the characteristics of their tissues. The organs that most frequently suffer permineralization are the stems, trunks and roots, as well as fruits and seeds.
  • Impressions: In this type of fossilization, it occurs when the leaves or other parts of the plant, when falling, leave an impression, that is, a trace on a soft surface that solidifies over time. From the impressions, it is possible to find plant fossils in stones, mainly fossils of leaves. However, it may happen that after printing, the plant tissue does not disintegrate completely, leaving a film of organic compounds on the impression or footprint. This is known as impression-compression.
  • Molds: sometimes it happens that the plant debris falls and is covered by the ground. Over time, these degrade and leave a gap in the rock that forms the mold. These molds are often filled with sediment or other compounds.
  • Mummifications: pollen grains and spores fossilize in this way, as mummification. However, pollen and spore fossils are not studied in paleobotany, but rather in paleopalynology.

In this other article you can learn about the types of fossilization and their characteristics.

Importance of paleobotany and its applications

Paleobotany is a highly important discipline, in addition to allowing us understand the origin of plant species current relationships, their kinship and distribution, their studies allow know the changes in the history of the planet, since plant fossils usually characterize the different stages of geological development on Earth.

As a result, one of the applications of paleobotany is in stratigraphy, a branch of geology that studies the arrangement and characteristics of the different strata and sedimentary rocks on the earth's surface. In general, the fossils that are used to understand stratigraphy are called guide fossils, which are those that existed for a short time and were distributed over wide geographical areas.

Now that you know better what paleobotany is, we encourage you to learn about Paleoecology: what it is, characteristics and importance.

If you want to read more articles similar to Paleobotany: what it studies and its importance, we recommend that you enter our Biology category.

  • Archangelsky, S. (1970). Fundamentals of paleobotany.
  • Martínez, L. C., & Ruiz, D. P. (2016). Fossil plants teach us the history of the Plant Kingdom.
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