4. Pollen and spores

Pollen and Spores

Pollen grains are produced by seed plants (angiosperms and gymnosperms), and spores by ferns, lycopods, horsetails, mosses and fungi. They are produced in generally very large numbers during the reproduction process, and are dispersed by wind, water and animals.

As pollen and spores are made up of an extremely resistant organic material called sporopollenin, they preserve well and thus the pollen and spore associations in sediments give us a very detailed overview of the complex vegetation and climate history of the past.

In addition, pollen and spores of individual plant species that have only existed during short periods of geological history, or that have produced very characteristic associations related to particular time periods only, can be used to date continental or shallow marine sedimentary deposits (“biostratigraphy”).

The study of pollen grains and spores, in addition to that of other organic-walled microfossils such as dinoflagellate cysts, is generally referred to as palynology.

Above: modern bisaccate Pinus pollen, middle: fern spore from the Upper Jurassic, below: pollen from the Upper Triassic

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