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Microlejeunea nyiahae

Bryophytes in amber

Rarity: 52-million-year-old leaves of moss found in India

Heinrichs, J. et al. PLOS OneRarity: 52-million-year-old leaves of moss found in IndiaHeinrichs, J. et al. PLOS One

In the Cambay region of northwestern India, amber—fossilized tree resin—has been found to contain preserved ants, bees and other insects tens of millions of years old. Now, analyses of other amber samples from Cambay have revealed hepaticas and mosses—plants of the bryophyte group, one of the first plants to occupy the Earth. The fragments of leaves and stems are estimated to be 52 million years old, from the time when forests of angiosperms—flowering and fruit-bearing plants—began to form (PLOS One, May 31, 2016). Researchers found well-preserved parts of a hepatica in amber, which enabled them to describe a new species named Microlejeunea nyiahae. It now becomes the oldest representative of the Lejeuneaceae family, the most diversified of the hepaticas. Botanists from Germany, Malaysia, Australia, Sweden, Hungary, India, the United States and Brazil—Denilson Peralta of the Botanical Institute of São Paulo (IBt)—had a part in describing this new extinct species of bryophyte. The discovery broadens our understanding of the processes undergone by species in this plant group and suggests that other unknown creatures could still be found in Indian amber.