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Concept: Cycad


On the basis of an assemblage of fossilized wing scales recovered from latest Triassic and earliest Jurassic sediments from northern Germany, we provide the earliest evidence for Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). The diverse scales confirm a (Late) Triassic radiation of lepidopteran lineages, including the divergence of the Glossata, the clade that comprises the vast multitude of extant moths and butterflies that have a sucking proboscis. The microfossils extend the minimum calibrated age of glossatan moths by ca. 70 million years, refuting ancestral association of the group with flowering plants. Development of the proboscis may be regarded as an adaptive innovation to sucking free liquids for maintaining the insect’s water balance under arid conditions. Pollination drops secreted by a variety of Mesozoic gymnosperms may have been non-mutualistically exploited as a high-energy liquid source. The early evolution of the Lepidoptera was probably not severely interrupted by the end-Triassic biotic crisis.

Concepts: Insect, Water, Lepidoptera, Moth, Butterfly, Dinosaur, Triassic, Cycad


The Asian cycads are mostly allopatric, distributed in small population sizes. Hybridization between allopatric species provides clues in determining the mechanism of species divergence. Horticultural introduction provides the chance of interspecific gene flow between allopatric species. Two allopatrically eastern Asian Cycas sect. Asiorientales species, C. revoluta and C. taitungensis, which are widely distributed in Ryukyus and Fujian Province and endemic to Taiwan, respectively, were planted in eastern Taiwan for horticultural reason. Higher degrees of genetic admixture in cultivated samples than wild populations in both cycad species were detected based on multilocus scans by neutral AFLP markers. Furthermore, bidirectional but asymmetric introgression by horticultural introduction of C. revoluta is evidenced by the reanalyses of species associated loci, which are assumed to be diverged after species divergence. Partial loci introgressed from native cycad to the invaders were also detected at the loci of strong species association. Consistent results tested by all neutral loci, and the species-associated loci, specify the recent introgression from the paradox of sharing of ancestral polymorphisms. Phenomenon of introgression of cultivated cycads implies niche conservation among two geographic-isolated cycads, even though the habitats of the extant wild populations of two species are distinct.

Concepts: Biology, Taiwan, Gene flow, Cycad, Cycas, Cycas revoluta


Crypticerya zeteki (Cockerell, 1914) (Hemiptera: Coccomorpha: Monophlebidae) is recorded for the first time from Brazil and Maconellicoccus hirsutus (Green, 1908) (Hemiptera: Coccomorpha: Pseudococcidae) is recorded for the first time from the state of Maranhão, Brazil. Both species were collected from branches, leaves and fruits of various fruit trees in the municipalities of São José de Ribamar, São Luís and Paço do Lumiar, Maranhão, Brazil. Crypticerya zeteki was collected on Citrus spp. (Rutaceae), Cocos nucifera (L.) (Arecaceae), Cycas revoluta L. (Cycadaceae), Malpighia punicifolia L. (Malpighiaceae), Mangifera indica L. (Anacardiaceae), Musa paradisiaca L. (Musaceae) and Theobroma grandiflorum Schum (Malvaceae), all first records for this species. Maconellicoccus hirsutus was collected on Spondias tuberosa Arruda (Anacardiaceae) and M. punicifolia L. (Malpighiaceae), both new records for this species.

Concepts: Arecaceae, Fruit, Seed, Mangifera, Banana, Cycad, Cycas, Cycas revoluta


• Premise of the Study: Plants that invest in large, heavy seeds and colorful, fleshy fruits or analogous structures seem adapted for dispersal by large vertebrates. Some such plants, like Australian cycads in the genus Macrozamia, do not disperse well, which could be explained by seed-dispersal relationships with megafauna that are rare or extinct in contemporary ecosystems. Such plants provide an opportunity to investigate the ecological consequences of low seed-dispersal distances.• Methods: We investigated seed dispersal of Macrozamia miquelii in Central Queensland by tracking the fate of marked seeds, identifying the dispersal fauna and quantifying population demography and spatial structure.• Key Results: We found that 70-100% of marked seeds remained within 1 m of maternal females (cycads are dioecious). Of the 812 seeds recovered (from 840 originally marked) only 24 dispersed >1 m from maternal females, the greatest observed dispersal being 5 m. We found an average of 2.2 seedlings and 0.7 juveniles within 1.5 m of mature females, which suggests that most seeds that remain in the vicinity of maternal females perish. Within-stand densities ranged between 1000 and 5000 plants/ha. The brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula was the only animal observed to move the seeds.• Conclusions: Macrozamia are adapted for dispersal by megafauna that are rare or absent in contemporary ecosystems. We argue that Macrozamia are “grove forming” plants that derive ecological benefit from existing as high-density, spatially discrete populations, the function of megafaunal dispersal adaptations being the infrequent dispersal of seeds en masse to establish new such groves in the landscape.

Concepts: Plant, Fruit, Seed, Plant morphology, Phalangeridae, Possum, Cycad, Macrozamia


Sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (sALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease with no known cause. There are many clues to suggest an environmental trigger for the disease, including reports of conjugal couples and co-localized employees that developed sALS. On the island of Guam,a very high incidence of sALS occurred among the Chamorro natives back in the 1940s and 1950s and has been linked to the neurotoxin beta-N-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA) that is produced by cyanobacteria that live symbiotically in the roots of the cycad plant, the seeds from which were a staple of the Chamorro diet. It has been shown that BMAA was biomagnified up the food chain from the cycad seeds to the now largely extinct, indigenous flying foxes, a former delicacy of the Chamorro natives. Recent evidence suggests that long term, chronic exposure to low levels of BMAA might cause ALS in genetically predisposed individuals. Many exposure routes to BMAA have been implicated thus far, including consumption of contaminated food and exposure to water harboring cyanobacterial blooms which have the capability of producing BMAA. Aerosolization is a well documented means for bacterial or toxin exposure causing subsequent illness, as in the case of brevetoxins and pulmonary disease and Legionnaire’s disease. We hypothesize that some cases of ALS may be related to chronic exposure to the aerosolization of cyanobacteria derived BMAA from cooling towers and might explain the observation of conjugal ALS couples.

Concepts: Medicine, Bacteria, Plant, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Neurodegenerative disorders, Lou Gehrig, Cycad, Lytico-Bodig disease


Bayesian relaxed-clock dating has significantly influenced our understanding of the timeline of plant evolution. This approach requires the use of priors on the branching process, yet little is known about their impact on divergence time estimates. We investigated the effect of branching priors using the iconic cycads. We conducted phylogenetic estimations for 237 cycad species using three genes and two calibration strategies incorporating up to six fossil constraints to (i) test the impact of two different branching process priors on age estimates, (ii) assess which branching prior better fits the data, (iii) investigate branching prior impacts on diversification analyses, and (iv) provide insights into the diversification history of cycads.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Plant, Phylogenetics, Statistical inference, Bayesian probability, Prior probability, Cycad


The Mesopsychidae is an extinct family of Mecoptera, comprising eleven described genera from Upper Permian to Lower Cretaceous deposits. In 2009, several well-preserved mesopsychids with long proboscides were reported from the mid Mesozoic of Northeastern China, suggesting the presence of pollination mutualisms with gymnosperm plants and highlighting their elevated genus-level diversity. Since that time, additional mesopsychid taxa have been described. However, the phylogeny of genera within Mesopsychidae has not been studied formally, attributable to the limited number of well-preserved fossils.

Concepts: Evolution, Cretaceous, Gondwana, Dinosaur, Mesozoic, Pangaea, Cycad, Tethys Ocean


Most knowledge concerning Mesozoic Era floras has come from compression fossils. This has been augmented in the last 20 years by rarer permineralized material showing cellular preservation. Here, we describe a new genus of anatomically preserved gymnosperm seed from the Callovian-Oxfordian (Jurassic) Oxford Clay Formation (UK), using a combination of traditional sectioning and synchrotron radiation X-ray micro-tomography (SRXMT). Oxfordiana motturii gen. et sp. nov. is large and bilaterally symmetrical. It has prominent external ribs, and has a three-layered integument comprising: a narrow outer layer of thick walled cells; a thick middle parenchymatous layer; and innermost a thin fleshy layer. The integument has a longitudinal interior groove and micropyle, enveloping a nucellus with a small pollen chamber. The large size, bilateral symmetry and integumentary groove demonstrate an affinity for the new species within the cycads. Moreover, the internal groove in extant taxa is an autapomorphy of the genus Cycas, where it facilitates seed germination. Based upon the unique seed germination mechanism shared with living species of the Cycadaceae, we conclude that O. motturii is a member of the stem-group lineage leading to Cycas after the Jurassic divergence of the Cycadaceae from other extant cycads. SRXMT-for the first time successfully applied to fossils already prepared as slides-reveals the distribution of different mineral phases within the fossil, and allows us to evaluate the taphonomy of Oxfordiana. An early pyrite phase replicates the external surfaces of individual cells, a later carbonate component infilling void spaces. The resulting taphonomic model suggests that the relatively small size of the fossils was key to their exceptional preservation, concentrating sulfate-reducing bacteria in a locally closed microenvironment and thus facilitating soft-tissue permineralization.

Concepts: Seed, Germination, Fossil, Ovule, Gymnosperm, Mesozoic, Cycad, Cycas


We tested for a tradeoff across species between plant maximum photosynthetic rate and the ability to maintain photosynthesis under adverse conditions in the unfavorable season. Such a trade-off would be consistent with the observed trade-off between maximum speed and endurance in athletes and some animals that has been explained by cost-benefit theory. This trend would have importance for the general understanding of leaf design, and would simplify models of annual leaf carbon relations. We tested for such a trade-off using a database analysis across vascular plants and using an experimental approach for 29 cycad species, representing an ancient plant lineage with diversified evergreen leaves. In both tests, a higher photosynthetic rate per mass or per area in the favorable season was associated with a stronger absolute or percent decline in the unfavorable season. We resolved a possible mechanism based on biomechanics and nitrogen allocation; cycads with high leaf toughness (leaf mass per area) and higher investment in leaf construction than in physiological function (C/N ratio) tended to have lower warm season photosynthesis but less depression in the cool season. We propose that this trade-off, consistent with cost-benefit theory, represents a significant physio-phenological constraint on the diversity and seasonal dynamics of photosynthetic rate.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Plant, Plant physiology, Fern, Chlorophyll, Gymnosperm, Evergreen, Cycad


Modern survivors of previously more diverse lineages are regarded as living fossils, particularly when characterized by morphological stasis. Cycads are often cited as a classic example, reaching their greatest diversity during the Jurassic-Cretaceous (199.6 to 65.5 million years ago) then dwindling to their present diversity of ~300 species as flowering plants rose to dominance. Using fossil-calibrated molecular phylogenies, we show that cycads underwent a near synchronous global rediversification beginning in the late Miocene, followed by a slowdown toward the Recent. Although the cycad lineage is ancient, our timetrees indicate that living cycad species are not much older than ~12 million years. These data reject the hypothesized role of dinosaurs in generating extant diversity and the designation of today’s cycad species as living fossils.

Concepts: Evolution, Plant, Phylogenetics, Extinction, Fossil, Dinosaur, Cycad, Living fossils