Carbon isotopic abundances in Mesozoic and Cenozoic fossil plants: Palaeoecological implications
Article first published online: 9 OCT 2007
Volume 26, Issue 4, pages 347–358, December 1993
How to Cite
BOCHERENS, H., FRIIS, E. M., MARIOTTI, A. and PEDERSEN, K. R. (1993), Carbon isotopic abundances in Mesozoic and Cenozoic fossil plants: Palaeoecological implications. Lethaia, 26: 347–358. doi: 10.1111/j.1502-3931.1993.tb01541.x
- Issue published online: 9 OCT 2007
- Article first published online: 9 OCT 2007
- received 21st October,1992; revised version received 22nd June, 1993.
Carbon isotopic abundances have been measured for more than one hundred samples of fossil plants ranging in age from middle Triassic to late Tertiary. Most of the plant fossils were identified at the specific or generic level and were selected as representing a variety of continental environments, including xeric and humid habitats. Material analysed included numerous fragments of flowers, seeds, fruits, leaves and wood, as well as a single amorphous lignite sample. The analyses performed for the plant fragments indicate relatively constant isotopic compositions during this time interval, with plant δ13C values ranging between -28 and -20%. These values are within the range for living terrestrial plants with C3, photosynthesis, although values more positive than -23% are rare in C3 plants and typically found in plants growing under environmental stress. Lower δ13C values might have been expected owing to the much higher CO2, levels of the Cretaceous atmosphere that have been inferred from marine carbonates. No fossils with values indicating C4, photosynthesis were discovered. Fossil plants from inferred mesic environments showed δ13C values ranging between -26.7 and -24.1%. Highest δ13C values in angiosperms (up to -20.1%) were measured for Late Cretaceous combretaceous flowers from Portugal. Some cheirolepidiaceous conifers from the Early Cretaceous also showed high δ13C values. Values measured for Pseudofrenelopsis varians and Glenrosa taxensis were -21.9%, and values of gymnosperm wood, probably of cheirolepidiaceous affinity, were -19.0%. These high values are in accordance with inferred ecological conditions for the fossil plants. They may suggest a tendency for C4,-like photosynthesis, although the data are equivocal. Higher values (-17.3%) clearly falling outside the C3, range were, however, obtained from a single lignite fragment of Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) age. The nature of this plant fragment is unknown, but the result suggests that C4-like photosynthesis was present at least in some latest Cretaceous vegetation. A hadrosaurian dinosaur with well-preserved collagen-like organic matter from the same deposit showed δ13C values around-16%, which also suggests the presence of CAM or even C4 plants in the latest Cretaceous. □Carbon isotopic abundances, δ13C values, dinosaurs, plants, photosynthetic pathways, Mesozoic.