Flowering plants may be 100 million years older

The earliest fossilised flowering plants are more than 100 million years older than any of the oldest known. This means that flowering plants could have developed 250 million years ago.

Today’s most varied land plant group is the flowering plants, also known as Angiosperms. Researchers believe that the oldest angiosperm fossils have been found at 135 million years. According to fossil evidence, the group became more diverse 130 million years ago.

Charles Darwin and other researchers have long been puzzled by how flowering plants are so diverse after their emergence. Genetics and the fossil record offer conflicting evidence. The latter points to an older origin.

Daniele Silvestro, University of Fribourg, Switzerland and his team analyzed over 15,000 fossils from more than 200 angiosperm family families to create a better timeline. 

Continue reading How The first flower to bloom on Earth could have looked.

Silvestro says, “We wanted a model that relied only on fossils and didn’t use genetic data or [evolutionary] assumptions.” This analysis examined the angiosperm diversity today and the number of species at different times. Silvestro says, “It attempts to draw a line in between the present diversity and the time when the first ancestors were the families.”

Researchers found strong evidence from the fossil record that angiosperms may have existed 250 million years ago. This is much earlier than any other known fossil angiosperm.

This is because if several related fossils appeared between 135 million and 130 million years ago, they must have come from an earlier common ancestor not found in the fossil record.

The team believes that angiosperms lived their first 100 million years on Earth as part of rare ecosystems. They are unlikely to fossilize.

According to him, this angiosperm history reading supports the idea that the group originated pre-Cretaceous. It also fits with theories that support a rapid diversification and expansion of flowers during the Cretaceous period.

Patrick Herendeen, Chicago Botanic Garden, is skeptical of these findings. He says that this approach is dependent on the quality and taxonomic identifications of fossil studies. This could mean that missing fossil data could impact the results.

Despite his doubts about the new analysis, Herendeen says that he wouldn’t be surprised to see angiosperm fossils dating back before the Cretaceous being discovered in the future.


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