Lichen preservation in amber: morphology, ultrastructure, chemofossils, and taphonomic alteration
Abstract. The fossil record of lichens is scarce and many putative fossil lichens do not show an actual physiological relationship between mycobionts and photobionts or a typical habit, and are therefore disputed. Amber has preserved a huge variety of organisms in microscopic fidelity, and so the study of amber fossils is promising for elucidating the fossil history of lichens. However, so far it has not been tested as to how amber inclusions of lichens are preserved regarding their internal characters, ultrastructure, and chemofossils. Here, we apply light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX), and Raman spectroscopy to an amber-preserved Eocene lichen in order to gain information about the preservation of the fossil. The lichen thallus displays lifelike tissue preservation including the upper and lower cortex, medulla, photobiont layer, apothecia, and soredia. SEM analysis revealed globular photobiont cells in contact with the fungal hyphae, as well as impressions of possible former crystals of lichen compounds. EDX analysis permitted the differentiation between halite and pyrite crystals inside the lichen which were likely formed during the later diagenesis of the amber piece. Raman spectroscopy revealed the preservation of organic compounds and a difference between the composition of the cortex and the medulla of the fossil.