Flowering plants (scientifically known as angiosperms) make up about 4/5 of all the green plants on our planet, but that was not the case billions of years ago when they did not exist at all.
Biologists managed to fully chart the rapid evolution of angiosperms over the past 140 million years.
The Time Tree
A newly-created “time tree” of flowering plants goes on detail showing how the impressive botanical upheaval happened, resulting in more than 300,000 known species that are flourishing around us.
Researchers put together the biggest collection of angiosperm fossil records to develop the timeline – over 230 in total.
The developers had to analyze hundreds of years of data and translate documents for various languages.
Hervé Sauquet, an evolutionary biologist from the University of New South Wales, said that fossils “are the most important evidence needed to understand these important evolutionary questions around angiosperm divergence times.”
“Previous studies of this nature only used 30 to 60 fossil records, and we wanted to increase this number significantly and set a higher standard for fossil calibration by documenting every part of the process,” he added.
After amassing all of the data, the team had to compare their time tree with over 16 million points of geographical data that pinpointed flowering plants’ locations.
The time tree is by far the most advanced picture of these species we’ve ever seen, answering various questions about the timing, location, and origins of plant evolution.
The chart analyzed 435 flowering plant families, and it revealed modern lineages starting to develop around 100 to 90 million years ago before they evolved into modern-day species nearly 66 million years ago.
That helped differentiate the “stem” age of a species and its “crown” age – the period when it started to diversify into the species we know.