AUSTIN, TexasThe evolutionary Tree of Life for flowering plants has been revealed using the largest collection of genomic data of these plants to date, report scientists from The University of Texas at Austin and University of Florida.
The scientists, publishing two papers in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week online, found that the two largest groups of flowering plants, monocots (grasses and their relatives) and eudicots (including sunflowers and tomatoes), are more closely related to each other than to any of the other major lineages.
The analyses also confirmed that a unique species of plant called Amborella, found only on the Pacific island of New Caledonia, represents the earliest diverging lineage of flowering plants.
Robert Jansen, professor of integrative biology at The University of Texas at Austin, said the work sets the stage for all future comparative studies of flowering plants.
If you are interested in understanding the evolution of flowering plants, you cant do that unless you understand their relationships, said Jansen.
The University of Florida team, led by Doug and Pam Soltis, also showed that the major diversification of flowering plants, so stunning that the researchers are calling it the Big Bang, took place in the comparatively short period of less than five million years. This resulted in all five major lineages of flowering plants present today.
Flowering plants today comprise around 400,000 species, said Pam Soltis, curator at the universitys Florida Museum of Natural History. To think that the burst that gave rise to almost all of these plants occurred in less than five million years is pretty amazingespecially when you consider that flowering plants as a group have been around for at least 130 million years.
The details of the flowering plants rapid diversification have remained a mystery since Charles Darwin first suggested their evolutionary h
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University of Texas at Austin