Structural Fingerprints of Development at the Intersection of Evo-Devo and the Fossil Record

  • Gar W. Rothwell
  • Alexandru M. F. Tomescu
Living reference work entry


The plant body preserves diagnostic structural features that develop as the result of specific regulatory genes and growth regulators. When recognized in extinct species, those features serve as structural fingerprints for the regulatory programs by which they were produced. We review the contributions of the fossil record to understanding the evolution of plant development in a temporal (geologic time) and a structural perspective (morphology, anatomy), and we highlight major topics in plant evolution in which integration of data from fossil and living plants has yielded significant resolution. Up to the present, the most ubiquitous growth regulator, auxin, has been documented as essential to the regulation of secondary growth and wood formation not only in seed plants, but also in several other major groups in which living species are no longer characterized by secondary growth. Additional fingerprints of growth regulation reveal the occurrence of gravitropic responses in fossils that extend back in time 400 million years and explain the evolution of equisetacean reproductive morphologies, living and extinct, by the interaction of modular regulatory programs. Still other fingerprints document parallel evolution of stem/leaf organography in several clades of living plants (e.g., ferns, Equisetum, and seed plants) and of substantial rooting systems that facilitated evolution of giant trees in extinct lycophytes and seed plants. Future application of techniques for identifying and interpreting the significance of structural fingerprints to a much broader spectrum of developmental processes holds tremendous potential for the paleontological record to substantially illuminate and enhance understanding of systematics and evolution within the context of plant development.


Anatomy Auxin Body plan Developmental regulation Fossil Leaf Morphology Paleo-evo-devo Phytomer Rhizomorph Root Secondary growth Strobilus Structural fingerprint 



We are indebted to Jean Galtier, Patricia Gensel, Alexander Hetherington, Jinzhuang Xue, Patrick Herendeen, and Kelly Matsunaga, who kindly provided images for illustrations. Nevin Cullen, Kyla Garten, and Dennis Walker are thanked for preparing some of the sections. Space constraints precluded us from fully referencing this work, and we apologize to the many authors whose publications are not included.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Botany and Plant PathologyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental and Plant BiologyOhio UniversityAthensUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesHumboldt State UniversityArcataUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Charles P. Scutt
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire de Reproduction et Développement des PlantesEcole Normale Supérieure de LyonLyonFrance

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