James Clark (fourth year SWBio DTP student) has recently had some of his work published as part of a paper that demonstrates how plants colonised the earth 100 millions years earlier than previously thought! These findings have then been featured by the BBC.
For the first four billion years of Earth’s history, our planet’s continents would have been devoid of all life except microbes.
All of this changed with the origin of land plants from their pond scum relatives, greening the continents and creating habitats that animals would later invade.
The timing of this episode has previously relied on the oldest fossil plants which are about 420 million years old.
New research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, indicates that these events actually occurred a hundred million years earlier, changing perceptions of the evolution of the Earth’s biosphere.
Plants are major contributors to the chemical weathering of continental rocks, a key process in the carbon cycle that regulates Earth’s atmosphere and climate over millions of years.
The team used ‘molecular clock’ methodology, which combined evidence on the genetic differences between living species and fossil constraints on the age of their shared ancestors, to establish an evolutionary timescale that sees through the gaps in the fossil record.
Paper: ‘Timescale of early land plant evolution’ by JL Morris, MN Puttick, J Clark, D Edwards, P Kenrick, S Pressel, CH Wellman, Z Yang, H Schneider and PCJ Donoghue in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.