Article: Ultrastructure of dispersed and in situ specimens of the Devonian spore Rhabdosporites langii: evidence for the evolutionary relationships of progymnosperms
The spore Rhabdosporites (Triletes) langii (Eisenack) Richardson, 1960 is abundant and well preserved in Middle Devonian (Eifelian) 'Middle Old Red Sandstone' deposits from the Orcadian Basin, Scotland. Here it occurs as dispersed individual spores and in situ in isolated sporangia. This paper reports on a detailed light microscope (LM), scanning electron microscope (SEM) and transmission electron microscope (TEM) analysis of both dispersed and in situ spores. The dispersed spores are pseudosaccate with a thick walled inner body enclosed within an outer layer that was originally attached only over the proximal face. The inner body has lamellate/laminate ultrastructure consisting of fine lamellae that are continuous around the spore and parallel stacked. Towards the outer part of the inner body these group to form thicker laminate structures that are also continuous and parallel stacked. The outer layer has spongy ultrastructure. In situ spores preserved in the isolated sporangia are identical to the dispersed forms in terms of morphology, gross structure and wall ultrastructure. The sporangium wall is two-layered. A thick coalified outer layer is cellular and represents the main sporangium wall. This layer is readily lost if oxidation is applied during processing. A thin inner layer is interpreted as a peritapetal membrane. This layer survives oxidation as a tightly adherent membranous covering of the spore mass. Ultrastructurally it consists of three layers, with the innermost layer composed of material similar to that comprising the outer layer of the spores. Based on the new LM, SEM and TEM information, consideration is given to spore wall formation. The inner body of the spores is interpreted as developing by centripetal accumulation of lamellae at the plasma membrane. The outer layer is interpreted as forming by accretion of sporopollenin units derived from a tapetum. The inner layer of the sporangium wall is considered to represent a peritapetal membrane formed from the remnants of this tapetum. The spore R. langii derives from aneurophytalean progymnosperms. In light of the new evidence on spore/sporangium characters, and hypotheses of spore wall development based on interpretation of these, the evolutionary relationships of the progymnosperms are considered in terms of their origins and relationship to the seed plants. It is concluded that there is a smooth evolutionary transition between Apiculiretusispora-type spores of certain basal euphyllophytes, Rhabdosporites-type spores of aneurophytalean progymnosperms and Geminospora-/Contagisporites-type spores of heterosporous archaeopteridalean progymnosperms. Prepollen of basal seed plants (hydrasperman, medullosan and callistophytalean pteridosperms) are easily derived from the spores of either homosporous or heterosporous progymnosperms. The proposed evolutionary transition was sequential with increasing complexity of the spore/pollen wall probably reflecting increasing sophistication of reproductive strategy. The pollen wall of crown group seed plants appears to incorporate a completely new developmental mechanism: tectum and infratectum initiation within a glycocalyx-like Microspore Surface Coat. It is unclear when this feature evolved, but it appears likely that it was not present in the most basal stem group seed plants.