Paper No. 168-6
Presentation Time: 2:30 PM
NATURAL HISTORY OF A PLANT TRAIT: BRANCH-SYSTEM ABSCISSION IN PALEOZOIC CONIFERS
Within conifers, active abscission of complete penultimate branch systems is not common and has been described mainly from juveniles. Presented is evidence for the abscission of penultimate branch systems within early so-called walchian conifers—trees with a plagiotropic branching pattern. The specimens studied originate from a middle Early Permian gymnosperm-dominated flora within the middle Clear Fork Group of north-central Texas. Complete branch systems of three walchian conifer morphotypes are preserved; all have pronounced swellings and smooth separation faces at their bases. The source plants grew in a streamside habitat under seasonally dry climatic conditions. The evolution of active branch abscission appears to correspond to an increase in the size of conifers, and this combination potentially contributed to the restructuring of conifer-rich late Paleozoic landscapes. Moreover, trees shedding branch systems and producing abundant litter have the potential to affect the fire regime, which is a factor of evolutionary importance because wildfires must have been a source of frequent biotic disturbance throughout the hyperoxic Early Permian.