Bryophytes have certainly evolved!
In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers at the Botanical Institute of the University of Liege show that the first plants which colonized the land have never stopped evolving. The current species are more recent than had previously been thought. Bryophytes underwent two bursts of diversification after the Cretaceous.
An almost complete phylogenetic tree
In his thesis, Benjamin Laenen has focussed on the diversification of bryophytes over the course of geological eras. Part of the results of his research has been recently published in the journal Nature Communications (1). “This was a collaborative work carried out with Professor Shaw’s laboratory at Duke University in the United States”, explains the researcher. “They sequenced 8 different genes for nearly 90% of liverwort genera and we used this set of data to construct the phylogeny of the group”. This research has also led to an enhancement of the “tree of life” that hundreds of scientists and amateurs have constructed together in the context of the project entitled the “Tree of Life Web”. While this is a great achievement from a phylogenetic point of view, it is not an end in itself from the point of view of the researchers from Liege. “We have used phylogeny as a tool that can help us to better analyze the evolutionary process of these plants”, continues Benjamin Laenen. This is because of the fact that, contrary to popular belief, these plants are not living fossils and have in fact evolved over the last 475 million years! “For a long time it was thought that plants had a limited evolutionary potential but this has proved false”, the researcher reveals. “We have demonstrated that the mosses and liverworts of today are much more recent than was previously believed. Many of them appeared after the Cretaceous, during a first diversification outburst”. This “bryophytes boom” coincides with the same phenomenon observed in ferns, another group of plants that were said to be “primitive”.
(1) Laenen B, Shaw B, Schneider H, Goffinet B, Paradis E, Désamoré A, Heinrichs J, Villarreal JC, Gradstein SR, McDaniel SF, Long DG, Forrest LL, Hollingsworth ML, Crandall-Stotler B, Davis EC, Engel J, Von Konrat M, Cooper ED, Patiño J, Cox CJ, Vanderpoorten A, Shaw AJ..Extant diversity of bryophytes emerged from successive post-Mesozoic diversification bursts. Nat Commun. 2014 Oct 27;5:5134. doi: 10.1038/ncomms6134.
© 2007 ULiège