A eudicot from the Early Cretaceous of China

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Abstract

The current molecular systematics of angiosperms1 recognizes the basal angiosperms and five major angiosperm lineages: the Chloranthaceae, the magnoliids, the monocots, Ceratophyllum and the eudicots, which consist of the basal eudicots and the core eudicots2. The eudicots form the majority of the angiosperms in the world today. The flowering plants are of exceptional evolutionary interest because of their diversity of over 250,000 species and their abundance as the dominant vegetation in most terrestrial ecosystems, but little is known of their very early history. In this report we document an early presence of eudicots during the Early Cretaceous Period. Diagnostic characters of the eudicot fossil Leefructus gen. nov. include simple and deeply trilobate leaves clustered at the nodes in threes or fours, basal palinactinodromous primary venation, pinnate secondary venation, and a long axillary reproductive axis terminating in a flattened receptacle bearing five long, narrow pseudo-syncarpous carpels. These morphological characters suggest that its affinities are with the Ranunculaceae, a basal eudicot family. The fossil co-occurs with Archaefructus sinensis3 and Hyrcantha decussata4 whereas Archaefructus liaoningensis5 comes from more ancient sediments. Multiple radiometric dates of the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation place the bed yielding this fossil at 122.6–125.8 million years old6,7,8. The earliest fossil records of eudicots are 127 to 125 million years old, on the basis of pollen9,10. Thus, Leefructus gen. nov. suggests that the basal eudicots were already present and diverse by the latest Barremian and earliest Aptian.

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Figure 1: Fossil locations.
Figure 2: The ages of the Yixian Formation, showing the fossil angiosperms and major vertebrates found there.
Figure 3: Holotype specimen of Leefructus mirus Sun, Dilcher, Wang et Chen.
Figure 4: Reconstruction of Leefructus mirus Sun, Dilcher, Wang et Chen.
Figure 5: Details of Leefructus mirus Sun, Dilcher, Wang et Chen.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the support of the Key Lab of Evolution of Past Life and Environment in Northeast Asia, Ministry of Education, China, and Project “111” of China, NSFC project number 40842002, and the President Special Fund of Shenyang Normal University to carry out this research project during 2008–2009. Many thanks to S. M. Li and L. X. Wang for their help in collecting the fossil specimen. We thank Y. Duan, C. T. Li, Y. S. Liu, D. M .Jarzen, T. Lott, S. Trammel and W. Wang for their assistance in analysis, computer work, photography and artwork. We also thank P. and D. Soltis, K. Nixon, M. Moore and J. Doyle for suggestions.

Author information

G.S. and D.L.D. designed the research plan. G.S., D.L.D., H.W. and Z.C. performed analysis. G.S., D.L.D. and H.W. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed and commented on the manuscript.

Correspondence to Ge Sun or David L. Dilcher.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Sun, G., Dilcher, D., Wang, H. et al. A eudicot from the Early Cretaceous of China. Nature 471, 625–628 (2011) doi:10.1038/nature09811

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