The Rhynie chert is the earliest fossilised terrestrial ecosystem preserving a diversity of Early Devonian plants, animal, fungi and microbes. Frozen in time for 407 million years it ranks as one of the most important fossils sites in the world and is named after the village it was discovered near, Rhynie, in Aberdeenshire. The aim of the talk is to provide an overview of the Rhynie chert, the hidden gem of Scottish geology, and to highlight how 100 years after its discovery, fossils from the site are still transforming our understanding of early life on land.
Sandy Hetherington studied an MSci in Geology at the University of Bristol and became fascinated by the evolution of land plants. He then moved to the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford to undertake his DPhil with Prof Liam Dolan on the evolution of lycophyte roots. His thesis was awarded the Irene Manton Prize in 2018 for the best thesis in Botany by the Linnean Society. After his DPhil he remained in Oxford, first as a postdoctoral researcher and then a Junior Research Fellow at Magdalen College continuing his work on root evolution. In October 2020 he moved to the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh to establish his research group supported by a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship. The current focus of Sandy’s research is to understand the key innovations that enabled plants to thrive on land, with a special focus on the origin and evolution of the foot transport tissue in plants called the phloem.
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