Molecular clocks estimate that diatom microalgae, one of Earth’s foremost primary producers, originated near the Triassic–Jurassic boundary (200 Ma), which is close in age to the earliest, generally accepted diatom fossils of the genus Pyxidicula. During an extensive search for Jurassic diatoms from twenty-five sites worldwide, three sites yielded microfossils initially recognized as diatoms. After applying stringent safeguards and evaluation criteria, however, the fossils found at each of the three sites were rejected as new diatom records. This led us to systematically reexamine published evidence in support of Lower- and Middle-Jurassic Pyxidicula fossils. Although Pyxidicula resembles some extant radial centric diatoms and has character states that may have been similar to those of ancestral diatoms, we describe numerous sources of uncertainty regarding the reliability of these records. We conclude that the Lower Jurassic Pyxidicula fossils were most likely calcareous nannofossils, whereas the Middle Jurassic Pyxidicula species has been reassigned to the Lower Cretaceous and is likely a testate amoeba, not a diatom. Excluding the Pyxidicula fossils widens the gap between the estimated time of origin and the oldest abundant fossil diatom record to 75 million years. This study underscores the difficulties in discovering and validating ancient microfossils.
Subject classification (UKÄ)