Objective: In this lab we start our survey of ancient plant life with the earliest land plants. As with the subsequent labs, your goals are to learn some basics of anatomy and morphology, the stratigraphic ranges of various taxa, and develop hypotheses about relationships. In general, the early land plants are small and simple. Because they are small, many early land plants are preserved whole, which makes reconstruction easier. However, the simple morphology often gives little clue to biologically-meaningful species richness. This means we have trouble defining meaningful OTUs and defining good phylogenetic characters. Consequently, working out evolutionary relationships has been a challenge and we tended to lump grades of organization together in taxa based on overall similarity. As you study the earliest land plants, you should also develop an understanding for the anatomical and morphological features necessary for life on land.
NOTE: During our survey the various groups of fossil plants, keep your eye on the stratigraphic ranges of the major groups-perhaps in chart form. The laboratories are organized primarily by lineages and so plants that are related to each other but may not have lived at the same time are grouped together. However, you will want to develop a sense for what plants were living together in space and time, as well as what their basic features and evolutionary relationship were. To help with this, we have compiled ranges for some lineages which appear at the end of labs and in a linked page of the Virtual Paleobotany Laboratory.