From mesic to arid: Leaf epidermal features suggest preadaptation in Miocene dragon trees (Dracaena)

Denk T., Guener H. T. , Grimm G. W.

REVIEW OF PALAEOBOTANY AND PALYNOLOGY, vol.200, pp.211-228, 2014 (Journal Indexed in SCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 200
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Doi Number: 10.1016/j.revpalbo.2013.09.009
  • Page Numbers: pp.211-228


Among the most prominent examples for the disjunct distribution of xeromorphic-sclerophyllous plants in Macaronesia and eastern Africa-Arabia, referred to as the Rand flora biogeographic pattern, is the "dragon tree group" within Dracaena (Asparagaceae). However, little is known about the evolutionary origin of this iconic group of semi-desertic trees. Here, we use exceptionally well-preserved fossils from western Anatolia to demonstrate range and ecological shifts of the lineage probably leading to some of the modern dragon trees. Compression fossils of apical leaf rosettes and detached leaves of Dracaena tayfunii spec. nov. were compared to modern Dracaena using the architecture of leaf-bearing branches, leaf morphology, and highly diagnostic leaf epidermal features observed with light and electron scanning microscopy. The palaeoecology of Dracaena was inferred using the depositional setting and associated plant taxa. The ca. 16 million-year-old (Ma) Dracaena from western Anatolia shows a character combination restricted today to the Macaronesian dragon tree, Dracaena draco: (1) Leaves are arranged in terminal rosettes; (2) leaves are ensiform, oblong, with a conspicuously dilated base (pseudo-sheath); and (3) leaf epidermis is strongly papillate with sunken stomata overarched by papillae of four neighbouring epidermal cells. Depositional setting, taphonomy, and the fossil plant association indicate that the Miocene Dracaena either grew in seasonally dry swamps within a complex fluvial-lacustrine environment or on adjacent slopes under a humid, warm climate. Hence, semi-desertic modern dragon trees allied to D. draco displaying distinct xeromorphism may have originated from a western Eurasian mesic lineage that had evolved xeromorphic characteristics by the Miocene. The morphology of this mesic ancestor later enabled the lineage to colonize and survive in the semi-desertic environments where it is found today. The new fossil species of Dracaena represents a classic example of pre-adaptation and niche shift. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.