Premise: Solanaceae is a scientifically and economically important angiosperm family with a minimal fossil record and an intriguing early evolutionary history. Here, we report a newly discovered fossil lantern fruit with a suite of features characteristic of Physalideae within Solanaceae. The fossil comes from the early Eocene Laguna del Hunco site (ca. 52 Ma) in Chubut, Argentina, which previously yielded the only other physaloid fruit fossil, Physalis infinemundi. Methods: The fruit morphology and calyx venation pattern of the new fossil were compared with P. infinemundi and extant species of Solanaceae. Results: Physalis hunickenii sp. nov. is clearly distinct from P. infinemundi in its fruiting calyx with wider primary veins, longer and thinner lobes, and especially in its venation pattern with high density, transverse tertiary veins; these features support its placement in a new species. In comparison with extant physaloid genera, the calyx venation pattern and other diagnostic traits reinforce placement of the new fossil, like P. infinemundi, within the tribe Physalideae of Solanaceae. Conclusions: Both species of fossil nightshades from Laguna del Hunco represent crown-group Solanaceae but are older than all prior age estimates of the family. Although at least 20 transoceanic dispersals have been proposed as the driver of range expansion of Solanaceae, the Patagonian fossils push back the diversification of the family to Gondwanan times. Thus, overland dispersal across Gondwana is now a likely scenario for at least some biogeographic patterns, in light of the ancient trans-Antarctic land connections between South America and Australia.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Plant Science