Exceptionally well-preserved Early Cretaceous leaves of Nilssoniopteris from central Mongolia

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Abstract

Two new Early Cretaceous (Aptian-Albian) species of fossil bennettitalean leaves are described from central Mongolia and assigned to the genus Nilssoniopteris. Nilssoniopteris tomentosa F.Herrera, G.Shi, Tsolmon, Ichinnorov, Takahashi, P.R.Crane, et Herend. sp. nov., isolated from bulk sediment samples collected for mesofossils in the Tevshiingovi Formation at the Tevshiin Govi opencast coal mine, is distinctive in having a dense, well-developed indumentum composed of branched, flattened multicellular trichomes on the abaxial leaf surface. This species provides the first direct evidence of complex multicellular trichomes in Bennettitales and adds to the evidence of leaf anatomical features in the group that were probably advantageous in increasing water use efficiency and/or perhaps had other functions such as deterring insect herbivory. Comparison with other well-preserved leaves of Bennettitales, including Nilssoniopteris shiveeovoensis F.Herrera, G.Shi, Tsolmon, Ichinnorov, Takahashi, P.R.Crane, et Herend. sp. nov., collected as hand specimens from the Khukhteeg Formation at the Shivee Ovoo locality, suggests that the trichome bases seen commonly on the abaxial cuticle of bennettitalean leaves bore trichomes with very low fossilization potential. In some cases these trichomes may have been shed as the leaves matured, but in other cases they probably decayed during diagenesis or were destroyed during the standard processes by which fossil leaf cuticles are prepared.

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