Development of a Mesozoic digital leaf cuticle image database for palaeoclimate reconstructions
Background and aim of the research:
Fossil remains of land plants are one of the primary palaeobiological proxies to reconstruct the palaeoclimate history from the glacial – interglacial cycles of the Quaternary to the warm greenhouse intervals of the Mesozoic and beyond. In particular, leaf cuticles reflect the epidermal cell pattern of leaves, which represent the main vegetative organs for photosynthesis. It has been shown that the density of leaf pores (stomata) correlates inversely with the ambient atmospheric CO2 level. Stomatal density on fossil leaves has been used as a palaeoproxy for pCO2 levels in the geological past. As the physiological response to CO2 level changes is taxon specific, a good understanding of the intrinsic morphological variability and plant systematics is necessary.
The goal of this project is to contribute to the development a digital catalogue that will be used as a database for the classification of Triassic and Jurassic cuticles. The candidate will investigate dispersed cuticles and those extracted from identified leaf taxa.
Research methodologies and database:
Laboratory preparation techniques of modern and fossil cuticles, Light microscopy and UV-fluorescence microscopy, SEM, Image analysis, eventually C-isotope analysis or FTIR-microscopy.
The student will work on morphometric analysis of epidermal cell parameters (epidermal cell density, stomata density, stomata size) of fossil cuticle material and the comparison with those of living relative plant species. The student will learn modern microscope techniques and the use of image analysis programs.
Fieldwork in the USA (Petrified Forest NP) or study visit at a foreign research institute to collect fossil cuticle material is optional. A background / interest of the candidate in botany is an advantage.