Life-from classification systems for extant species can shed light on physiognomic relationships, but they can be inadequate for understanding evolutionary changes under past climatic conditions unless the criteria used for the purpose of classification encompass the ecologically dominant life-forms of the past. In this respect, the Raunkiaerian system has advantages and disadvantages for assessing the fossil record of plant life-form changes.
One of the strong advantages of the system is that, with few exceptions, the five major life-form classes identified on the basis of the position of renewal buds can be identified, at least in theory, for all fossil land plants, because all known extinct vascular and nonvascular land plants possess apical meristems. One of the many disadvantages of the system is that it is often extremely difficult to determine the extent to which the renewal buds of fossil plants are protected from inclement climatic conditions, because many fossil plants are typically preserved in a fragmented condition. Although whole-plant reconstructions are available for some extinct species, most fossil plants are known only on the basis of individual organs or incomplete body parts.
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