Plants Conquered Land 500 Million Years Ago

Scientists in China and the UK have used fossil evidence and genomic data to demonstrate that land plants first appeared about 500 million years ago.

AsianScientist (Mar. 1, 2018) – A research group comprising scientists in China and the UK has demonstrated that the first land plants appeared 500 million years ago. They reported their discovery in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The establishment of plant life on land is one of the most significant evolutionary episodes in Earth history. Although the megafossil record provides unequivocal evidence of plant life on land, the early fossil record is too sparse and biased by the nonuniformity of the rock record to directly inform scientists of the timing and sequence of how plant body plans came about.

In this study, scientists led by Professor Harald Schneider from the Xishaungbanna Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences attempted to establish a timescale of early land plant evolution. The researchers integrated genomic data with fossil evidence to perform a robust analysis of the relationships and divergence times of early land plants.

They concluded that land plants emerged within a middle Cambrian to Early Ordovician interval beginning 488.3 million years ago and ending 443.7 million years ago. All four major lineages of land plants—hornworts, liverworts, mosses and vascular plants—had diverged by the late Silurian period, which began 443.7 million years ago and ended 416 million years ago.

The article can be found at: Morris et al. (2018) The Timescale of Early Land Plant Evolution.


Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences; Photo: Paul Kenrick/Natural History Museum.
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