Authors: Friðgeir Grímsson, Guido W. Grimm, Reinhard Zetter
Background. The Saururaceae, a very small family of Piperales comprising only six species in four genera, have a relatively scanty fossil record outside of Europe. The phylogenetic relationships of the four genera to each other are resolved, with the type genus Saururus occurring in both eastern North America and East Asia. No extant species occurs in western Eurasia. The most exceptional find so far has been an inflorescence with in-situ pollen, Saururus tuckerae S.Y.Sm. & Stockey from Eocene of North America with strong affinities to extant species of Saururus. Recent dated trees suggest, however, an Eocene or younger crown age for the family. Methods. Dispersed fossil pollen grains from the Campanian (82-81 Ma) of North America are compared to dispersed pollen grains from the Eocene strata containing S. tuckerae, the Miocene of Europe, and extant members of the family using combined LM and SEM imaging. Results. The unambiguous fossil record of the Saururaceae is pushed back into the Campanian (82-81 Ma). Comparison with re-investigated pollen from the Eocene of North America, the Miocene of Europe, and modern species of the family shows that pollen morphology in Saururaceae is highly conservative, and remained largely unchanged for the last 80 million years. Discussion. Campanian pollen of Saururaceae precludes young (Eocene or younger) estimates for the Saururaceae root and crown age, but is in-line with maximum age scenarios. Saururus-type pollen appear to represent the primitive pollen morphology of the family. Often overlooked because of its small size, dispersed Saururaceae pollen may provide a unique opportunity to map the geographic history of a small but old group of Piperales, and should be searched for in Paleogene and Cretaceous sediment samples.