Faculty & Staff

Go Back

Alexandru MF Tomescu

General Information

Associate Professor
Plant Morphology, Anatomy, and Paleobotany
Phone: (707) 826-3229
Office: Science A 360
Email: mihai@humboldt.edu
Research Website: Tomescu Lab Group

Academic background


Summary of research

My research revolves around two main themes. One of these is the origin and early evolution of complex eukaryotic life on land. To formulate hypotheses and address questions in this area of paleobiology, I take two diametrically opposed, yet highly convergent, approaches. The first approach involves investigation of terrestrial fossil biotas from the Early Paleozoic of the Appalachian Basin, in eastern North America. Work on these biotas has revealed diverse terrestrial communities of thalloid organisms that pre-date the oldest vascular plants and include the earliest known occurrences of complex internal organization outside the marine realm. The second approach is based on experiments that simulate fossilization to document the effects of diagenetic compression and heat on various groups of organisms potentially at the origin of the fossil biotas (cyanobacteria, algae, fungi, lichens, and embryophytes). The two approaches converge in generating data on morphology, anatomy, ultrastructure, and chemistry. These data allow for direct comparisons between fossils and living groups of organisms, with implications for the resolution of systematic affinities of the earliest complex eukaryotic terrestrial colonists, understanding of the evolution of biochemical pathways that led to terrestrialization of life, and identification of biosignatures for the presence of advanced life in water-stressed environments.

The second major direction of my research can be broadly defined as the application of morphology in phylogeny reconstruction. This involves different aspects ranging from alpha-taxonomic work on plant fossils to morphological cladistic analyses integrating fossil and extant taxa. Particularly, I am interested in the reconstruction of fossil plants as whole organisms and inclusion of these taxa, often producing novel combinations of characters, in cladistic analyses. To date, my work includes alpha-taxonomy of Early Carboniferous (Mississippian) pteridosperms, reconstruction of a Late Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian) filicalean fern, and currently I am working on a dataset to test two competing hypotheses proposed for the phylogeny of sphenopsids (Equisetum and diverse related fossil taxa).

On a less regular basis, I am continuing some of my earlier work on Holocene palynology in relation with archeological sites, and the use of high-resolution stratigraphic data in discerning seasonality signals in archeological midden deposits.

Research projects for prospective students:

Sample publications

Graduate students

Jeffery Barrett

Kelly Matsunaga

Glenn Shelton