In this article we will discuss about the meaning and significance of Palaeobotany.
Meaning of Palaeobotany:
Palaeobotany is the study of fossil plants. These fossils are found in the layers of earth and certain layers of rocks. It is also spelled as Palaeobotany (Gr. Palaeon = old; botany = study of plants).
It is the branch of Palaeology. It deals with the identification of the plant remains from geological contexts and use for the biological construction of the plant environments (paleography) and both the evolutionary history of plants with a bearing upon the evolution of life in general.
Palaeobotany includes the study of terrestrial plant fossils as well as the study of prehistoric marine autotrophs such as photo synthetic algae, weeds or kelps. Its synonym is Palaeophytology. A closely related field is palynology which is the study of fossilized and extinct spores and pollens.
Stenbery (1761-1838) is known as the father of Palaeobotany. The most ancient plant fossils were microscopic algae that lived more than one billion years ago during Precambrian times.
Macroscopic remains of true vascular plants are first found in the fossil records during the Silurian period of the Paleozoic era. Fossils of many plants (mosses and Lycopods) and animals (Orthopods and Arachnids) were found in the Rhynie chert and provide a unique window of the history of the early terrestrial life.
Plant derived macrofossils became abundant in the late Devonian and include tree trunks, fronds and roots. The earliest tree fossil is Archaepoteris. It bears simply fern like leaves spirally arranged on branches top and a conifer like trunk. Angiosperms fossil first appear during the early cretaceous approximately 30 million years ago.
Remains of macroscopic parts e.g., branches, petioles, leaves, fruits and seeds are termed mega-fossils and those of microscopic structures e.g. pollens and spores are termed microfossils. If a fossil cannot be assigned to any genus containing extinct species, its genus is termed organ genus and if it cannot be assigned to a family it is placed in a form genus.
Significance of Palaeobotany:
1. Palaeobotany research is helpful in solving the problems connected with the formation of earth and evolutionary (gradual development) relationship among plants.
2. It helps to discover the earliest occurrence of different kinds of plants in the geological record. This knowledge of sequential occurrence of taxa is then used to develop an understanding of environmental relationship among groups of plants.
3. Palaeobotany research may be helpful in determining what fossil plants were like, and the kinds of animals that utilised then as food and habitat. This information may be helpful to infer the characteristics of the ancient environment including the type of climate in which plants grow (reconstruction of ancient ecological system and climate is known as palaeoecology and paleoclimatology respectively.)
4. It is said that long ago continents moved. Palaeobotany helps in the study of problem.
5. The knowledge of Palaeobotany is also helpful in solving certain problems connected with the search of petroleum and coal.
6. Palaeobotany has also become important to the field of archaeology (the analysis and interpretation of plant tissues found at archaeological sites) primarily for the phytoliths (a minute particle formed of mineral matter by a living plant and fossilized in rock) in relative dating and relative Palaeoethnobotany.
(It is also called earth science, the study of fossil seeds and grains to farther archaeological knowledge, especially of the domestication of cereals. The proper chronological placement of a feature, object or happening in the geological time scale without reference to its absolute age is called relative dating).