A high-latitude Gondwanan lagerstätte: The Permian permineralised peat biota of the Prince Charles Mountains, Antarctica
Slater et al
The Toploje Member chert is a Roadian to Wordian autochthonous–parautochthonous silicified peat preserved within the Lambert Graben, East Antarctica. It preserves a remarkable sample of terrestrial life from high-latitude central Gondwana prior to the Capitanian mass extinction event from both mega- and microfossil evidence that includes cryptic components rarely seen in other fossil assemblages. The peat layer is dominated by glossopterid and cordaitalean gymnosperms and contains moderately common herbaceous lycophytes, together with a broad array of dispersed organs of ferns and other gymnosperms. Rare arthropod-plant and fungal-plant interactions are preserved in detail together with a plethora of fungal morphotypes, Peronosporomycetes, arthropod remains and a diverse coprolite assemblage. Comparisons to other Palaeozoic ecosystems show that the macroflora is of low diversity. The fungal and invertebrate-plant associations demonstrate that a multitude of ecological interactions were well developed by the Middle Permian in high-latitude forest mires that contributed to the dominant coal deposits of the Southern Hemisphere. Quantitative analysis of the constituents of the silicified peat and of macerals within adjacent coal seams reveals that whilst silicified peats provide an unparalleled sample of the organisms forming Permian coals, they do not necessarily reflect the volumetric proportions of constituents within the derived coal. The Toploje Member chert Lagerstätte provides a snapshot of a rapidly entombed mire climax ecosystem in the closing stages of the Palaeozoic, but prior to the onset of the protracted crisis that engulfed and overthrew these ecosystems at the close of the Permian.