A comparative study of modern and fossil cone scales and seeds of conifers: a geochemical approach


To whom correspondence should be addressed at (present address): Biogeochemistry Research Centre, Department of Geology, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK. E-mail: A.Stankiewicz@bristol.ac.uk


Modern cone scales and seeds of Pinus strobus and Sequoia sempervirens, and their fossil (Upper Miocene, c. 6 Mar) counterparts Pinus leitzii and Sequoia langsdorfii have been studied using pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS), electron-microprobe and scanning electron microscopy. Microscopic observations revealed only minor microbial activity and high-quality structural preservation of the fossil material. The pyrolysates of both modern genera showed the presence of ligno-cellulose characteristic of conifers. However, the abundance of (alkylated)phenols and 1,2-benzenediols in modern S. sempervirens suggests the presence of non-hydrolysable tannins or abundant polyphenolic moieties not previously reported in modern conifers. The marked differences between the pyrolysis products of both modern genera are suggested to be of chemosystematic significance. The fossil samples also contained ligno-cellulose which exhibited only partial degradation, primarily of the carbohydrate constituents. Comparison between the fossil cone scale and seed pyrolysates indicated that the ligno-cellulose complex present in the seeds is chemically more resistant than that in the cone scales. Principal component analysis (PCA) of the pyrolysis data allowed for the determination of the discriminant functions used to assess the extent of degradation and the chemosystematic differences between both genera and between cone scales and seeds. Elemental composition (C, O, S), obtained using electron-microprobe, corroborated the pyrolysis results. Overall, the combination of chemical, microscopic and statistical methods allowed for a detailed characterization and chemosystematic interpretations of modern and fossil conifer cone scales and seeds.