Palaeobiology

The missing link in Ginkgo evolution

The modern maidenhair tree has barely changed since the days of the dinosaurs.

Abstract

The maidenhair tree, or Ginkgo, is a gymnosperm that has been described as a 'living fossil' because it is known to have existed early in the Jurassic period 170 million years (Myr) ago, but a full understanding of its evolution has been impeded by a gap in the fossil record of more than 100 Myr — a crucial period during which the modern ovulate organs evolved from the Jurassic type1. Here we describe a new Ginkgo fossil that was collected from the Lower Cretaceous fossil Lagerstätte (the Yixian Formation2, which is over 121 Myr old3) in China and which fills this gap. This missing link reveals that Ginkgo's reproductive structures at that time were more like those of the present-day Ginkgo biloba than those of the primitive Jurassic type, indicating that their morphology has changed little for over 100 Myr.

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Figure 1: Newly discovered Ginkgo species from the Lower Cretaceous Zhuanchengzhi Bed of the Yixian Formation, China.

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Correspondence to Zhiyan Zhou.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Zhou, Z., Zheng, S. The missing link in Ginkgo evolution. Nature 423, 821–822 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/423821a

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