Description of Alethopteris from the Williamson #3 Mine, Lucas County, Iowa: anatomical variation, diversity, paleoecology



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Texas A&M University


For more than 100 years, Pennsylvanian permineralized peats have been studied for their exceptionally preserved plant remains. Late Atokan-early Desmoinesian coal balls from the Williamson # 3 deposit in south-central Iowa were preserved by the permineralization of soluble carbonate into pores in the peat and plant cells creating carbonate nodules. These nodules, referred to as coal balls, protect the plant remains from the compaction associated with coal allowing for the analysis of anatomically preserved plants from Pennsylvanian. The Williamson #3 deposit is unusual because it is dominated by a diverse assemblage of gymnosperms. Other deposits of similar age in Iowa are dominated by a mixture of cordaitalean gymnosperms, tree-ferns, and medullosan gymnosperms; while, other North American deposits are dominated by lycopsids with tree-ferns and seed-ferns as the subdominant vegetation. Because vegetation types differ with environment, analysis of the Alethopteris pinnules from the Williamson #3 Mine provides insight into the ecology of a peat-producing swamp during the Pennsylvanian, and allows for the comparison of this deposit to others in North America. The focus of this study is the description of a distinct morphotype of Alethopteris from the Williamson #3 Mine. Alethopteris pinnules described from other mines were used to compile a traits list and compare measured and descriptive characteristics. The objective of this study is to gain a better understanding of changes in swamp vegetation during the Pennsylvanian, and the effect of environmental variation on the dominant vegetation in peat swamps.