UF study: Rapid burst of flowering plants set stage for other species

February 5th, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new University of Florida study based on DNA analysis from living flowering plants shows that the ancestors of most modern trees diversified extremely rapidly 90 million years ago, ultimately leading to the formation of forests that supported similar evolutionary bursts in animals and other plants.

This burst of speciation over a 5-million-year span was one of three major radiations of flowering plants, known as angiosperms. The study focuses on diversification in the rosid clade, a group with a common ancestor that now accounts for one-third of the worlds flowering plants. The forests that resulted provided the habitat that supported later evolutionary diversifications for amphibians, ants, placental mammals and ferns.

“Shortly after the angiosperm-dominated forests diversified, we see this amazing diversification in other lineages, so they basically set the habitat for all kinds of new things to arise,” said Pamela Soltis, study co-author and curator of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics at UFs Florida Museum of Natural History. “Associated with some of the subsequent radiations is even the diversification of the primates.” (more…)

Fla. Museum research screened at international science media festival in Italy

April 7th, 2008

Photo available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The PBS NOVA documentary “First Flower,” featuring Florida Museum of Natural History paleobotanist David Dilcher, recently bloomed on screen in Milan, Italy, at the Vedere la Scienza Festival, an international festival celebrating science-themed media.

“First Flower looks at questions regarding the nature of the first flowers on earth, and also the beautiful diversity of living flowers in the mountains of south central China,” said Dilcher, a member of the National Academy of Sciences. “The beauty of the flowers featured and the intrigue of looking for the origin of flowering plants, and how they are related to one another, makes this a film that people enjoy. It’s a film everyone can learn something from.”

“First Flower,” which aired at the festival April 2, depicts Dilcher’s work, along with his colleague Sun Ge of Jilin University in Changchun, China. Together, the researchers described a 125-million-year-old fossil flowering plant they named Archaefructus liaoningensis, which means “ancient fruit from Liaoning Province of northeast China.” Features of the plant’s seed-containing fruits led Dilcher to conclude it was one of the earliest forms of flowering plants. The journal Science featured Dilcher’s research on its cover in 1998 and 2002. (more…)

UF Botanists: Flowering plants evolved very quickly into five groups

November 26th, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida and University of Texas at Austin scientists have shed light on what Charles Darwin called the “abominable mystery” of early plant evolution.

In two papers set to be published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists report that the two largest groups of flowering plants are more closely related to each other than any of the other major lineages. These are the monocots, which include grasses and their relatives, and the eudicots, which include sunflowers and tomatoes.

Doug and Pam Soltis, a UF professor of botany and curator at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History, respectively, also showed that a stunning diversification of flowering plants they are referring to as the “Big Bang” took place in the comparatively short period of less than 5 million years — and resulted in all five major lineages of flowering plants that exist today. (more…)

April 17 NOVA show featuring UF-Chinese research traces evolution of flowers

April 9th, 2007

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Joint research between Florida Museum of Natural History and Chinese scientists to discover and interpret the world’s earliest known flowering fossil is the subject of a PBS NOVA documentary, “First Flower,” which debuts at 8 p.m. April 17.

The origin of flowers is one of botany’s deepest mysteries, and in the NOVA documentary, Florida Musuem paleobotanist David Dilcher guides viewers through segments of the amazing story of the evolution of flowers.

“There’s no doubt about it, flowers are all about sex,” said Dilcher, a graduate research professor and paleobotany curator at the Florida Museum and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. (more…)

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