DOI: 10.1111/pala.12683 ISSN: 0031-0239

Uncovering a phylogenetic signal in plant biopolymer chemistry: a comparison of sporopollenin isolation approaches for use in palynological research

Phillip E. Jardine, Matthew S. Kent, Wesley T. Fraser, Klaus‐Holger Knorr, Barry H. Lomax
  • Paleontology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Sporomorphs (pollen and spores) are a mainstay of research into past vegetation, and increasingly sporomorph chemistry is being used as a palaeoecological tool. To make extant sporomorphs directly comparable to fossil specimens, fresh material is processed to remove labile compounds and isolate the sporopollenin wall. A range of processing approaches are currently in use, but the chemistries produced by these different techniques have not yet been compared across a range of taxa. It is therefore not clear how they compare in terms of efficiently isolating sporopollenin without changing its chemical structure, and what impact they have on relative chemical similarities and differences among taxa (i.e. whether more closely related species will always appear chemically more similar, regardless of how they have been processed). Here, we test this by applying five different processing approaches to sporomorphs from 15 taxa from across the vascular plant phylogeny. We show that each approach has its own idiosyncrasies in terms of impacts on sporomorph chemistry. For the most part a common pattern of among‐taxon chemical variability is uncovered, and a phylogenetic signal within sporopollenin chemistry is supported. Working with spectral derivatives generally increases agreement among the different processing approaches, but decreases the strength of the phylogenetic signal. No one processing approach is ideal, and the choice of which to use is likely to depend on the goal of the study, the type and quantity of material being processed, and the laboratory facilities available for processing.

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