Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Fossil is best look yet at an ancestor of buttercups

01.04.2011
Scientists from the United States and China have discovered the first intact fossil of a mature eudicot, a type of flowering plant whose membership includes buttercups, apple trees, maple trees, dandelions and proteas. The 125 million-year-old find, described in this week's Nature, reveals a remarkably developed species, leading the scientists to argue for an earlier origin of the eudicots -- and perhaps flowering plants in general.

"This fossil opens up a new way of thinking about the evolution of some of the first flowering plants," said Indiana University Bloomington biologist David Dilcher, the Nature paper's American coauthor. "We are also beginning to understand that the explosive radiation of all flowering plants about 111 million years ago has had a long history that began with the slower diversification of many families of eudicots over 10, perhaps 15 million years earlier."


This 125 million-year-old fossil of a eudicot is the earliest, most complete to date. It was named Leefructus mirus by a group of scientists that includes IU Bloomington biologist David Dilcher. Credit: Zhiduan Chen

An image of the fossil was selected as Nature's cover.

Dilcher and his Chinese colleagues Ge Sun and Hongshan Wang (Shenyang Normal University) and Zhiduan Chen (Chinese Academy of Sciences) named the fossilized plant Leefructus mirus in honor of Li Shiming, a non-scientist who donated the fossil to Ge Sun's new museum of paleontology in Liaoning Province, China. Ge Sun was the project's principal investigator.

The fossil shows the above-ground portion of a mature plant. A single stem leads to five leaves, and one leads to a fully developed flower. The entire fossil is about 16 cm (6.3 in) tall. Leaves are innervated by branching veins, and the small, cup-shaped flower has five petals.

"I think Leefructus had attractive flowers to advertise for pollinators to visit," said Dilcher, when asked to speculate. "There were no bees at this time, so I think that flies, beetles or extinct types of moths or scorpion flies may have been involved in its pollination. Leefructus was found in the volcanic ash beds of an ancient lake. I think it was living near a lake, perhaps in a wet or marshy area much as buttercups do today."

The scientists' analysis of the plant's form leads them to believe Leefructus should be placed among the Ranunculaceae, an old family of eudicots that includes buttercups and crowroot plants.

"When we look at the branching relationships of the tree for this group, the Ranunculaceae is at the end of several branches going to the other families, such as the poppies," Dilcher said. "As a result, we believe that prior to 122 to 124 million years ago, several families of flowering plants had already begun to diverge. How much older the eudicots are we do not know yet, but this fossil suggests their origin certainly goes further back in the Cretaceous, perhaps even into the Jurassic."

The profusion of flowering plant species in the second half of the Mesozoic Era, the age of dinosaurs, eventually led to flowers' domination of other types of plants in all but Earth's harshest climates. Evolutionary biologists believe the diversification of flowering plants also supported the radiation of a wide range of animal species, particularly pollinators and seed eaters, from beetles and bees to hummingbirds and bats.

Until now, most fossil information about the earliest eudicots has come from fossilized pollen, the plant equivalent of sperm. Despite pollen's small size, pollen grains have provided crucial information to paleontologists. But pollen can only tell scientists so much.

"What we know about the earliest eudicots comes from a few pollen records off the coast of West Africa and the lower Cretaceous sediments in southern England about 127 million years before present," Dilcher said. "We can learn a lot from pollen, but the Leefructus fossil shows us that there is no substitute for a megafossil record if we are to understand the evolution of early flowering plants."

The age of the Leefructus fossil was determined by analyzing the ages of surrounding rock via Argon 40/39 and Uranium-Lead dating methods.

This research was supported by grants from the Chinese Ministry of Education, the "111" Project, China's National Natural Science Foundation, and Shenyang Normal University.

To speak with Dilcher, please contact David Bricker, University Communications, at 812-856-9035 or brickerd@indiana.edu.

David Bricker | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.indiana.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Large-Mouthed Fish Was Top Predator After Mass Extinction
26.07.2017 | Universität Zürich

nachricht Strength of tectonic plates may explain shape of the Tibetan Plateau, study finds
25.07.2017 | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Large-Mouthed Fish Was Top Predator After Mass Extinction

26.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Getting closer to porous, light-responsive materials

26.07.2017 | Materials Sciences

Large, distant comets more common than previously thought

26.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>