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Can modern-day plants trace their New Zealand ancestry?
Date:1/21/2010

One hundred million years ago the earth looked very different from how it does today. Continents were joining and breaking apart, dinosaurs were roaming the earth, and flowering plants were becoming more widespread.

The southern hemisphere supercontinent known as Gondwana formed around 180-200 mya during the breakup of Pangaea and then began to split apart about 167 mya. As scientists reconstruct the history of these land masses and life during this period, many questions arise. For example, is the current flora of New Zealand derived from plants that grew on Gondwana before its breakup, or derived from plants that more recently dispersed to New Zealand?

Recent research published in the January issue of the American Journal of Botany (http://www.amjbot.org/cgi/content/full/97/1/59) by Dr. Gregory Jordan of the University of Tasmania and a team of researchers from New Zealand and Austria explore the answer to these questions based on observations of two macrofossils from the Late Oligocene/Early Miocene time period (28-15 mya) in New Zealand.

Based on observations and evolutionary analyses, Jordan and colleagues identified the two fossils as members of the epacrid subfamily of the plant family Ericaceae, known as the heath family. Their data demonstrate that by the Early Miocene, New Zealand was home to at least two different lineages of epacrids. Past examples of Ericaceae fossil pollen in New Zealand have suggested that the family's presence in New Zealand dates back to the Late Cretaceous period (66.5-99.6 mya), but these recent evolutionary analyses suggest a much younger history for most groups of plants in that region.

"The epacrids encapsulate many of the problems that have fascinated botanists in the southern hemisphere," Jordan said. "How important was Gondwana? Why do we have so many sclerophylls? How do sclerophylls work? We h
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Contact: Richard Hund
rhund@botany.org
314-577-9557
American Journal of Botany
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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