Fire-prone Rhamnaceae with South African affinities in Cretaceous Myanmar amber

Shi, Chao; Wang, Shuo; Cai, Hao-hong; Zhang, Hong-rui; Long, Xiao-xuan; Tihelka, Erik; Song, Wei-cai; Feng, Qi; Jiang, Ri-xin; Cai, Chen-yang; Lombard, Natasha; Li, Xiong; Yuan, Ji; Zhu, Jian-ping; Yang, Hui-yu; Liu, Xiao-fan; Xiang, Qiao-ping; Zhao, Zun-tian; Long, Chun-lin; Schneider, Harald; Zhang, Xian-chun; Peng, Hua; Li, De-Zhu; Fan, Yong; Engel, Michael S.; Wang, Yong-dong and Spicer, Robert A. (2022). Fire-prone Rhamnaceae with South African affinities in Cretaceous Myanmar amber. Nature Plants, 8 pp. 125–135.



The rapid Cretaceous diversification of flowering plants remains Darwin’s ‘abominable mystery’ despite numerous fossil flowers discovered in recent years. Wildfires were frequent in the Cretaceous and many such early flower fossils are represented by charcoalified fragments, lacking complete delicate structures and surface textures, making their similarity to living forms difficult to discern. Furthermore, scarcity of information about the ecology of early angiosperms makes it difficult to test hypotheses about the drivers of their diversification, including the role of fire in shaping flowering plant evolution. We report the discovery of two exquisitely preserved fossil flower species, one identical to the inflorescences of the extant crown-eudicot genus Phylica and the other recovered as a sister group to Phylica, both preserved as inclusions together with burned plant remains in Cretaceous amber from northern Myanmar (~99 million years ago). These specialized flower species, named Phylica piloburmensis sp. nov. and Eophylica priscastellata gen. et sp. nov., exhibit traits identical to those of modern taxa in fire-prone ecosystems such as the fynbos of South Africa, and provide evidence of fire adaptation in angiosperms.

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