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Popular Science: Czech imprint in modern paleontology

Understanding history promotes better understanding of the present and predicts the future. Findings from the past are thus more than desired. However, discovering them is often complicated and requires a lot of experience and sometimes even coincidence. Professor Zlatko Kvaček from the Department of Geology and Paleontology, Faculty of Science, Charles University described a new discovery in the Czech Republic, which went down in history of world paleontology.

From a paleontological point of view, the area of the Czech Republic is very important, even on a global scale. However, important discoveries would not have been possible without the participation of leading experts in paleontology, including Professor Zlatko Kvaček. He greatly contributed to the scientific exploration of Tertiary flora, thanks to which he revealed many secrets of plant history.

One of the great explorations of the Neogene flora was made by the Severočeské doly a.s. workers in the Most Basin in the Bílina open cast mine. In a recent paper, Professor Kvaček focused on the description of a new fruit of an angiosperm of the genus Halesia L. This species, belonging to the Styracaceae family and originating from the early Miocene, has not yet been seen or described anywhere in the world. This is a paleontological novelty that has broadened the understanding of the Euro-American floristic similarities through the Cainozoic.

Fossilized fruit of a new species Halesia mosbruggeri discovered in the Most Basin. From the collection of Severočeské doly donated to the National Museum on the occasion of its 200th anniversary in 2018. Source: Zlatko Kvaček. Photo: Lenka Váchová.

Fossil remains belonging to the Styracaceae family are relatively rare. At best, incomplete fruits, endocarps, wood or foliage were found in the past. The current discovery of a new species, “Halesia mosbruggeri Kvaček” is unique, especially in its entirety. The deposition of the fruit in silty lake sediments helped preserve the entire winged fruit in a good condition, including the endocarp and stalk, which allows better classification among other described or existing species. This taxon is based on reproductive organs – exceptionally well-preserved winged fruits with slightly visible veining and a clearly visible fimbrial vein. It also contains a crushed endocarp and stalk 1.5 mm in length.

Interestingly, Halesia currently grows naturally only in North America and China. The fruit of the newly described species “Halesia mosbruggeri Kvaček” is similar to the fruits of “Halesia diptera J. Ellis.” found in North Florida and South Carolina in the USA. A slightly older fossil fruit, which is very similar in fruit shape currently found in the Czech Republic and only differs in the venation, was described from the Paleocene of the USA.

An inconspicuous fossil, only a few inches in length, confirms the possible routes of migration and provides further evidence of an ancient connection between North America and Eurasia during the Neogene. New knowledge of paleobotany helps to solve problems in many fields of interest, from botany to cosmonautics. It is assumed that the organisms which existed in the oldest periods of the Earth could be most likely to be present on other planets. So, the paleobotany research is not over. However, the amazing discoveries of Professor Zlatko Kvaček, who sadly passed away late last year, will always help and inspire many experts from all over the world.

Kvaček, Z. (2021): Halesia mosbruggeri Kvaček, sp. nov., a new fossil fruit of Halesia L. (Styracaceae) from the Bohemian Miocene (Czech Republic). Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments, 101:75–78. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12549-020-00463-y

Kateřina Fraindová

Published: May 31, 2021 03:25 PM

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