Taxonomy term

plant biology

A flammable planet: Fire finds its place in Earth history

For hundreds of millions of years, wildfires have shaped the planet, from the plants, animals and ecosystems around us to the air we breathe. Yet scientists are only beginning to understand the planet’s fiery past. 
16 Jan 2018

Mangroves sprouted in Arctic during Eocene

Mangrove trees, which today thrive in tropical and subtropical climates in the low and midlatitudes, grew in the high Russian Arctic about 56 million years ago, scientists reported in Geology. It’s the northernmost occurrence of mangrove trees ever documented.

24 Oct 2017

Chemical clues illuminate fossil plant relationships

To reconstruct relationships among extinct plants and animals, paleontologists often compare genetic sequences from distinct organisms or analyze differences in fossil shapes. But both techniques have limitations: DNA does not last more than about a million years in the rock record, so genetic comparisons are typically limited to relatively recent species; and finding fossils intact enough to use for shape comparisons can be difficult. In a recent study, scientists describe a new technique that could help get around these issues — for some plants at least — using molecular remnants that are more robust than DNA and are preserved in fossil leaves.

17 Oct 2017

Soil acidity changes quickly from place to place

The acidity of soils, which affects soil fertility, depends largely on a region’s climate. What has been less clear is just how abrupt — or gradual — shifts in acidity are at the boundaries between adjacent regions with different climates. In a new study in Nature, scientists report that acidity transitions are indeed abrupt, and the results may provide a glimpse into how plant communities will evolve as the planet’s climate continues to change.

04 Apr 2017

Liverworts, not moss, dominated Earth's early terrestrial ecosystems

Moss, the springy green plant that blankets forest floors, has been heralded as the generator of large amounts of oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere during the Paleozoic. In a new study, however, researchers suggest that it could have been the overlooked relative of moss — liverworts — that dominated early terrestrial ecosystems and thus had more to do with reducing high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere at the time and cooling climate globally.

08 Feb 2017

Lack of fungi did not lead to copious Carboniferous coal

The Carboniferous Period is famous for supplying Earth with an abundance of coal deposits. According to one hypothesis, the formation of all this coal is explained by a proposed 60-million-year gap, or lag, between the spread of the forests globally about 360 million years ago and the rise of wood-eating microbes and fungi that could break down tough plant matter. But a new study refutes this idea, instead attributing the Carboniferous’ copious coal to the consolidation of the supercontinent Pangea.

25 May 2016

Fossil leaves provide clues to ancient Australian habitat

Researchers have long thought that the scrublands of Australia developed over the last 25 million to 30 million years as part of a global trend toward colder and drier climates in which rainforests yielded ground to more open, fire-prone environments.

20 Apr 2016

Land plants came prepared for terrestrial life

Plants colonized land between 450 million and 420 million years ago, and, once there, they drastically altered terrestrial landscapes and provided resources for animals leaving the oceans around the same time. One adaptation that helped plants gain a foothold on land is a symbiosis with fungi known as arbuscular mycorrhizae (AM), which help plants acquire water and key nutrients from the soil and are still associated with most land plants today. In return, plants provide the fungi with bioavailable carbon produced during photosynthesis. When this symbiosis evolved has remained unclear, but researchers recently discovered that it likely has roots in a group of freshwater algae ancestral to land plants.
22 Jan 2016

Thorny plant marks West African diamond deposits

West Africa is famous for diamonds, brought up from the depths of Earth’s mantle eons ago during explosive volcanic eruptions. On the surface, the eroded remains of these eruptions, known as kimberlite pipes, are infamously hard to find under the thick jungles of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and only a few of the deep, narrow pipes contain profitable diamonds. Now, a researcher has identified an unusual feature that might point the way toward such pipes, and possibly revolutionize the search for diamond-rich deposits: a tall, thorny palm-like plant that seems to only grow atop kimberlites.
23 Aug 2015

Nonnative plants not a problem in Britain

In many places in the world, nonnative plants are epidemic, outcompeting local flora for space and resources and sometimes leading to extinctions of native plants. But a new study finds that, in Britain at least, foreign plants don’t seem to be negatively impacting the natives after all.
07 Aug 2015