Morphometrics of Modern and Fossil Poaceae Pollen from South America
Poaceae (the grass family) is one of the most diverse angiosperm families on Earth, comprising close to 12,000 species. The history of grass-dominated biomes extends back over 20 million years, yet the spatial and temporal development of these biomes and the underlying drivers remains unresolved. This thesis addresses these questions in South America, focusing on modern grass pollen and ancient samples dating from the early Miocene to the present. The thesis reveals several key points: (i) Grass pollen size varies significantly both among genera and species and within species. Pollen size shows no correlation with (a)biotic factors, indicating its limited utility as a generally applicable proxy for reconstructing past vegetation and climate; (ii) Grass pollen exhibits high diverse on surface ornamentation. The morphotypes identified by descriptive terminology are well-supported by a combination of SEM images of pollen surface patterns and computational image analysis. The findings reveal that pollen sculpture is unrelated to (a)biotic variables but is diverse across the phylogeny; (iii) Tropical grass pollen morphology suggests a gradual rather than punctuated evolution, based on the trend toward a less dense ornamentation of the exine since c. 23 Ma. The changes in the exine of grass pollen since the early Miocene might be driven by evolutionary processes (evolutionary drift and/or directional selection), and potentially immigration at the continental scale. In summary, the thesis reveals the trajectory of grass pollen morphological changes over time and examining the drivers that have contributed to their evolution and geographical expansion at the continental scale.