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There's a particular feeling of excitement that comes from receiving a gift. It's a feeling of the unknown, of anticipation – and then you unwrap the package and find something spectacular.
As palaeontologists, rocks are our idea of a great gift. That's because when you crack them open, you might well find a fossil. And we aren't talking about dinosaurs: our area of specialisation is palaeobotany. This involves hunting for plant fossils which can tell us a great deal about the landscapes of past ages.
South - Africa - Range - Plant - Fossils
South Africa is home to a range of lesser known and neglected plant fossils, called the glossopterids. These trees once grew in vast swamps along with ancient plant groups such as ferns, horsetail ferns and clubmosses. We know from a few scattered reports that this amazingly rich fossil resource extends across much of Africa, particularly in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and further north into Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and even Madagascar.
Some may wonder why fossils matter. Plants never get as much attention as South Africa's famous rich and diverse fossil heritage that range from some of the earliest evidence of life through to its famous hominid collections. Glossopteris, for instance, has not been well studied in South Africa. It's still poorly understood.
Work - Parts - World - Region - System
There has been work done in different parts of the world. However, it is not detailed and each region uses its own system to try and understand these fossil plants. South Africa is lagging behind: there are two employed palaeobotanists in the country, while entire research teams exist in other parts of the world.
Yet plants can reveal a great deal about past environments and climates. If we have any hope of understanding South Africa's ancient past, scientists need to be able to reconstruct entire ecosystems, starting at the bottom of the food chain. Glossopteris dotted ancient landscapes before...
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