The Paleobotanical Division in the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center at the University of Kansas has the largest collection of Antarctic plants in the world, and includes extensive collections of permineralized peat of Permian and Triassic age. This collection has been accumulated over nine field seasons, the most recent being the 2003-2004, and includes blocks, acetate peels and slides. In addition there are extensive collections of impressions and compressions from numerous sites in Southern Victoria Land and the Transantarctic Mountains. Research has focused on characterizing the diversity of both the Permian and Triassic plants, and fungi and integrating this information with various climatic parameters that existed during the Late Paleozoic and Early Mesozoic in Antarctica. Because the plants are preserved as permineralizations we are interested in anatomical information about the plants, how they reproduced, and how the ecosystem was constructed.
Fossil fungi from the Lower Devonain (400 million-year-old) Rhynie chert is another area of current research. This site has provided exceptional fungi representing all of the major fungal groups except the basidiomycetes. Numerous saprophytic and parasitic chytrids are associated with several types of macroplants that in turn demonstrate host reactions that parallel those seen in modern plants. The underground parts of several plants are associated with mutualistic mycorrhizal fungi. Ascomycetes, with asci and ascospores, are found on the stems of still other plants in the Rhynie chert ecosystem. Some fungi are parasitic on other fungi. The Rhynie chert ecosystem also contains the oldest symbiotic association in which a cyanobacterium and fungus interact in a lichen association. There are numerous examples of cyanobacteria, other fungi and bacteria present in the chert matrix and associated with the other plants and animals in the Rhynie chert. This ecosystem provides an opportunity to demonstrate the diversity, levels of interaction and host response, and calibration points necessary in characterizing the evolution of major fungal structures and lineages.
Ultrastructure of living and fossil plants
The ultrastructure of fossil pollen and spores, and plant cuticle provide important proxy records of structure and function relationships with modern analogues. Because both cuticle and sporopollenin are preserved in the fossil record they can be examined for ultrastructural details. This information is useful in making comparisons with modern analogues in a systematic framework, characterizing potential interrelationships with other organisms (e.g., herbivores), understanding how particular structures may have functioned, and examining larger questions relating to the reproductive biology of certain groups of fossil plants.