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Earth and Environmental Sciences pres.

Smith Lecture: Weathering and Soil Development in the Earliest Land Plant Biospheres

Ria L Mitchell, Swansea University

Colonization of the land by primitive plants during the Early Palaeozoic had a profound effect on biologically mediated soil development, the stabilisation of land surfaces, the architecture of fluvial sedimentary systems, and global biogeochemical cycles (carbon, phosphorous, oxygen). Modern analogues of terrestrial habitats from ~450 million years ago include cryptogamic ground covers (CGCs), which contain a mix of primitive biotas such as the non-vascular bryophyte plants (mosses, liverworts, hornworts), lichens, fungi, algae, and bacteria. Some modern liverworts and hornworts form symbiotic associations with mycorrhizal fungi and cyanobacteria, a mutualistic relationship regarded as a primitive method of nutrient acquirement from mineral substrates which was likely occurring deep in the geologic past to create some of the earliest ‘bio-soils’. In this talk I will present interdisciplinary efforts to better understand the chemical, physical and mechanical processes of plant-symbiont-soil interactions and nutrient acquirement in modern analogues of early terrestrial biospheres. In particular, I will focus on cutting edge multi-dimensional (2D – 3D) and multi-scale (cm – nm) correlative imaging methods with a view to applying this to methods of weathering, nutrient extraction and biological interactions in the geologic past.

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