Article: Defining the gigantopterid concept: a reinvestigation of Gigantopteris (Megalopteris) nicotianaefolia Schenck and its taxonomic implications
Reinvestigation of the first described gigantopterid plant, Gigantopteris (Megalopteris) nicotianaefolia Schenk ex Potonie, 1902 from the Permian of China, has been conducted using the original specimens documented in 1883. The application of new techniques has permitted a comprehensive review of their morphology. This study represents the first photographic record of Schenk's specimens and provides a standardised terminology to describe them. This species of Palaeozoic leaf megaphyll is characterised by its pinnate venation, with tertiary veins that anastomose, and give rise to branches that may be of the same or higher order. These anastomosed branches form a reticulum of irregular polygonal meshes, within which higher order veins anastomose and again form meshes. On examination of Schenk's original specimens only one, MB.Pb.2002/989, can be assigned to Gigantopteris nicotianaefolia, and this is herein designated the lectotype. The remaining specimens described by Schenk are reassigned to cf. G. nicotianaefolia, cf. Gigantopteris sp., Gigantonoclea sp. or cf. Gigantonoclea sp. This re-analysis of Schenk's specimens has led to an emended diagnosis of both the genus Gigantopteris and the species G. nicotianaefolia. Current evidence suggests that Gigantopteris nicotianaefolia is restricted to the southern floral regions of Cathaysia, as typically are other species of this genus. Fertile specimens of Gigantopteris are unknown, and the status of these plants as a natural group relies upon a combination of their complex foliar physiognomy, stratigraphic range, and geographical distribution. This study indicates that the genera GigantopterisGigantonoclea form the basis of the gigantopterid concept. These two genera share characters of leaf morphology including megaphylls with eucamptodromous venation across which extends a continuous lamina, and higher order veins, third order or above, that arise from the secondary veins and anastomose to form complex meshes. These genera are distinguished in that the venation of Gigantopteris is far more complex than that of Gigantonoclea, with a greater number and complexity of vein orders, the penultimate and ultimate of which form meshes within meshes, and of these the finest may terminate in blind endings.