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Sporopollenin chemistry and its durability in the geological record: an integration of extant and fossil chemical data across the seed plants

Jardine, Phillip E.; Hoorn, Carina; Beer, Maxine A.M.; Barbolini, Natasha; Woutersen, Amber; Bogota-Angel, Giovanni; Gosling, William D.; Fraser, Wesley T.; Lomax, Barry H.; Huang, Huasheng; Sciumbata, Matteo; He, Huajie; Dupont-Nivet, Guillaume

Sporopollenin chemistry and its durability in the geological record: an integration of extant and fossil chemical data across the seed plants Thumbnail


Phillip E. Jardine

Carina Hoorn

Maxine A.M. Beer

Natasha Barbolini

Amber Woutersen

Giovanni Bogota-Angel

William D. Gosling

Wesley T. Fraser

Barry H. Lomax

Huasheng Huang

Matteo Sciumbata

Huajie He

Guillaume Dupont-Nivet


© 2021 The Authors. Palaeontology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The Palaeontological Association. Sporopollenin is a highly resistant biopolymer that forms the outer wall of pollen and spores (sporomorphs). Recent research into sporopollenin chemistry has opened up a range of new avenues for palynological research, including chemotaxonomic classification of morphologically cryptic taxa. However, there have been limited attempts to directly integrate extant and fossil sporopollenin chemical data. Of particular importance is the impact of sample processing to isolate sporopollenin from fresh sporomorphs, and the extent of chemical changes that occur once sporomorphs enter the geological record. Here, we explore these issues using Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) microspectroscopy data from extant and fossil grass, Nitraria (a steppe plant), and conifer pollen. We show a 98% classification success rate at subfamily level with extant grass pollen, demonstrating a strong taxonomic signature in isolated sporopollenin. However, we also reveal substantial chemical differences between extant and fossil sporopollenin, which can be tied to both early diagenetic changes acting on the sporomorphs and chemical derivates of sample processing. Our results demonstrate that directly integrating extant and late Quaternary chemical data should be tractable as long as comparable sample processing routines are maintained. Consistent differences between extant and deeper time sporomorphs, however, suggests that classifying fossil specimens using extant training sets will be challenging. Further work is therefore required to understand and simulate the effects of diagenetic processes on sporopollenin chemistry.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 4, 2020
Online Publication Date Jan 31, 2021
Publication Date 2021-03
Deposit Date Dec 9, 2020
Publicly Available Date Feb 1, 2022
Journal Palaeontology
Print ISSN 0031-0239
Electronic ISSN 1475-4983
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 64
Issue 2
Pages 285-305
Keywords sporopollenin; pollen; chemotaxonomy; seed plants; diagenesis; Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) microspectroscopy Palaeontology Palaeontology
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