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Earth's Oldest Liverworts--Metzgeriothallus sharonae sp. nov. from the Middle Devonian (Givetian) of Eastern New York

TitleEarth's Oldest Liverworts--Metzgeriothallus sharonae sp. nov. from the Middle Devonian (Givetian) of Eastern New York
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsVanAller Hernick, L, Landing, E, Bartowski, KE
JournalReview of Palaeobotany & Palynology
Keywordsliverworts; taphonomy; preservation; Devonian; New York; Metzgeriothallus sharonae n. sp

Liverworts are generally regarded as rare elements in Palaeozoic floral assemblages. However, a focus on dark gray to black shales and siltstones in the Middle–Late Devonian Catskill Delta of eastern New York shows that liverworts are locally quite common as well-preserved, apparently parautochthonous specimens in thin, lenticular, dark gray–black shale and siltstone lenses. These lenses are either dysoxic–anoxic lacustrine or estuarine facies deposited under oxygen-stratified water masses or rapidly deposited flood plain deposits that were not oxidized after deposition. Carbonized remains of the upper Middle Devonian (Givetian) liverwort Metzgeriothallus sharonae sp. nov. are locally common in these lenses. Well-preserved thalli (gametophytes) are only evident by projecting polarized light on the shale and siltstone surfaces. An associated sporophyte capsule is the first evidence of a reproductive structure in a Devonian liverwort. Metzgeriothallus sharonae sp. nov. is the oldest known liverwort. The age of the new species helps recalibrate chloroplast DNA studies that have led to proposals of the timing of liverwort diversification by showing that the evolutionary separations of the Jungermanniopsida and Marchantiopsida and of the Metzgeriidae and Jungermanniidae [previously thought to be Late Devonian and Late Carboniferous, respectively] were no younger than late Middle Devonian.