A permineralized Early Cretaceous lycopsid from China and the evolution of crown clubmosses

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    Lycopodiaceae are one of three surviving families of lycopsids, a lineage of vascular plants with a fossil history dating to at least the Early Devonian or perhaps the Late Silurian (c. 415 Ma). Many fossils have been linked to crown Lycopodiaceae, but the lack of well-preserved material has hindered definitive recognition of this group in the paleobotanical record. New, exceptionally well-preserved permineralized lycopsid fossils from the Early Cretaceous (125.6 +/- 1.0 Ma) of Inner Mongolia, China, were examined in detail using acetate peel and micro-computed tomography techniques. The anatomy of extant Lycopodiaceae was analyzed for comparison using fluorescence microscopy. Phylogenetic relationships of the new fossil to extant Lycopodiaceae were evaluated using parsimony and maximum likelihood analyses. Lycopodicaulis oellgaardii gen. et sp. nov. provides the earliest unequivocal and best-documented evidence of crown Lycopodiaceae and Lycopodioideae, based on anatomically-preserved fossil material. Recognition of Lycopodicaulis in Asia during the Early Cretaceous indicates the presence of crown Lycopodiaceae at this time, and striking similarities of stem anatomy with extant species provide a framework for the understanding of the interaction of branching and vascular anatomy in crown-group lycopsids.