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Thursday, May 23, 2024

There was a mistake made about the identification of a fossil flower that had been preserved in amber for almost 150 years

Eva-Maria Sadowski, a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum in Berlin, chose to borrow the world’s largest amber-preserved fossil flower for no specific reason.

Her inquisitiveness unravelled a more than 150-year-long instance of mistaken identification, culminating in a more accurate depiction of the Baltic amber forest of Northern Europe 33 million years ago.

The preserved flower flowered around midway between the demise of the last non-avian dinosaurs and the development of humans, who discovered it in 19th-century Russia. In 1872, scientists categorised it as the extinct flowering evergreen Stewartia kowalewskii.

The identify of the Baltic amber flower was not updated until Thursday, when Dr. Sadowski’s research in Scientific Reports was released.

Amber plants are a rarity. Botanical creatures account for only 1% to 3% of amber specimens from the Baltic. This might be due to amber collectors’ preference for animal specimens, but it could also be because animals voluntarily enter pools of resin, while plants must fall in by mistake.

Dr. Sadowski said that plants preserved in amber give paleobotanists with a plethora of knowledge, despite their scarcity. Amber, which originates from tree resin, preserves ancient specimens in three dimensions, exhibiting “fine details that you don’t often see in other fossil varieties.”

The inch-wide bloom that drew Dr. Sadowski’s attention was three times larger than the next-largest amber-preserved flower ever found. Before she searched out the flower, a coworker had described its “huge” size, and she questioned whether he was exaggerating. He did not. Then, she determined what 150 years of technology advancements may disclose about Stewartia kowlewskii.

Dr. Sadowski polished the amber block using a moist leather cloth and toothpaste, a technique she learnt from her PhD mentor, Alexander Schmidt, who took up some of his techniques from dentists. Under a powerful microscope, Dr. Sadowski saw well preserved anatomical characteristics of the flower, as well as pollen grains, which she used to determine if the plant had been classified into the proper family 150 years ago.

Christa-Charlotte Hofmann of the University of Vienna studied the pollen along with microscopic characteristics of the flower’s anatomy after isolating and photographing the grains. This indicated a completely different genus group than that which had been allocated in 1872: Symplocos, a genus of flowering shrubs and small trees that is no longer present in Europe but is ubiquitous in contemporary East Asia.

The renaming of the gigantic bloom contributes to scientists’ understanding of the biological variety of the Baltic amber woodland. The existence of Symplocos indicates that ancient Europe was warmer than it has been for the most of human history.

Regan Dunn, a paleobotanist at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum who was not involved in the study, stated, “These small grains are natural recorders of previous temperatures and ecosystems that may help us estimate how much our world has changed owing to natural (nonhuman) reasons.” This helps us to better comprehend the magnitude of our species’ effect on the world.

George Poinar Jr., a scientist whose study inspired the “Jurassic Park” television series, said that there would undoubtedly be more scientific advancements. In the almost 50 years that he has studied amber, advancements in microscopy have revealed previously concealed characteristics of ancient species.

A Boyle
A Boyle
I cover Science related topics for The National Era
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