Taxonomy term

plant biology

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

Tiny plant fossils offer big view of ancient ecosystems

A key part in understanding a terrestrial ecosystem is analyzing its vegetation structure: How dense is the foliage? Is its canopy open or closed? How much sunlight reaches the ground? Answering these questions about a modern plant community is relatively easy, but for paleoecosystems, such analysis has not been possible until recently. Now, a new study published in Science reports a novel way to create what lead author Regan Dunn calls a “3-D look” at ancient ecosystems.
13 Jun 2015

Ancient moss reveals tsunami timing

Fishermen trawling Norway’s waters have long known of a place where the seafloor drops precipitously into the abyss. It’s called Storegga — or “great edge” — and it’s actually the steep headwall of the largest undersea landslide in recent geologic history. The slide triggered a tsunami that flooded the shores of the North Sea, reaching as far as Greenland, and likely affecting the Stone Age people that inhabited Northern Europe at the time.

14 May 2015

Amber-encased plant could be oldest known grass: Specimen may also preserve a Cretaceous-aged hallucinogen

Delicate grasses don’t preserve well in the fossil record, and evidence for grasses coexisting with dinosaurs is scant. But according to a new study, a chunk of 100-million-year-old amber recently discovered in Myanmar appears to contain the world’s oldest grass fossil — far more ancient than any fossil grasses previously found. What’s more, the specimen seems to be topped with the world’s oldest known ergot — a fungus containing ingredients used to make lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD. But while the image of a 100-metric-ton sauropod grazing on hallucinogen-laced grass is intriguing, not everybody is convinced that the specimen is the real deal.

12 May 2015

Fossil leaves reveal effect of "impact winter"

When the Chicxulub bolide struck the Yucatán Peninsula at the end of the Cretaceous about 66 million years ago, widespread extinctions of land and marine animals resulted. However, the blast’s lasting effects on plants, which tend to be more resilient against impact-related fallout, have been less clear. Now, a new analysis of fossil leaves dating to around the end-Cretaceous offers some of the first quantitative evidence of a substantial shift in plant communities — toward more deciduous plants — following the impact.

05 Mar 2015