Discovering fossil plants from Mongolia
Fossil plants from Mongolia are incredibly rare. However, in the last five years paleobotanists from the Chicago Botanic Garden have collected thousands of early Cretaceous fossils (~100-120 million years old) such as cones, leaves, seeds, and wood. Some of the conifers groups identified from Mongolia so far include extinct members of the spruce and cypress families. The new material is exquisitely preserved as three-dimensional mesofossils, revealing detailed morphological plant information. The fossils are found in plant litter assemblages that grew in ancient swamps and rivers. The Mongolian fossils are very important because they provide new data for the understanding of seed plant evolution, especially conifers and other extinct plants.
The REU intern will work mainly on the selection of fossils from the litter samples by using a stereoscope and insect forceps in the labs of the Chicago Botanic Garden. The student will be trained in fossil and living plant morphology and will acquire useful knowledge for the identification of seed plants. The intern will also learn techniques about cataloguing, photography, scanning electron microscopy (done at the Field Museum), and analysis of microtomography of the fossil material.