Taxonomy term

plant biology

A rocky source of nitrogen

Calculations of the planet’s nitrogen balance have always been off: plants and soils seem to sequester far more nitrogen than expected. The atmosphere has long been thought of as the only major source of nitrogen, but a new study indicates an additional source: as much as a quarter of Earth’s terrestrial nitrogen may be supplied by eroding bedrock.

07 Aug 2018

Mountaintops get less lonely for alpine plants

It takes a hardy plant to live on top of a mountain, but new research shows that summits in the Alps are hosting more species of plants than ever before. Long-term botany surveys conducted on 302 European mountaintops over the past 145 years show that the variety of plant species living on the harsh summits has markedly increased over the last 10 years due to climate change.

18 Jul 2018

Beavers preserve wetlands in water-stressed areas

Once considered detrimental to ecosystems and nuisances where, for example, dams flooded farmland, beavers have been rhetorically touted in recent years as a potential boon for wetland health and water conservation. Anecdotal accounts and qualitative findings have suggested beavers improve water quality and availability in drought-stressed ecosystems, but just how much influence they have was not known. In new research, scientists have examined two creeks in Nevada to directly measure how effective beaver dams are at slowing water flows and storing water through the dry summer months.

30 Jan 2018

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

Pages