Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ferns Took To The Trees And Thrived During Cretaceous Period

Date:
July 7, 2009
Source:
Duke University
Summary:
As flowering plants like giant trees quickly rose to dominate plant communities during the Cretaceous period, the ferns that had preceded them hardly saw it as a disappointment.

Hymenophyllum jamesonii, an epiphytic fern of neotropical rain forests, has berry-like clusters of sporangia where reproductive spores are produced.
Credit: Courtesy of Eric Schuettpelz

As flowering plants like giant trees quickly rose to dominate plant communities during the Cretaceous period, the ferns that had preceded them hardly saw it as a disappointment.

In fact, they flourished. While modern tropical rain forests were becoming established, ferns climbed aboard, and experienced a flowering of their own species diversity.

"The canopy is there and -- boom -- diversification," said Duke University researcher Eric Schuettpelz, who is completing a post-doctoral fellowship in biology with associate professor Kathleen Pryer.

By integrating genomic data from 400 living fern species with information from the fossil record, Schuettpelz and Pryer constructed a new time-calibrated family tree for ferns. Their study appears on the cover of the July 7 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Though ancient, it appears that ferns really came into their own during a very hot, very wet period that peaked about 10 million years after the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary 65 million years ago.

Two key innovations may have led to the ferns' success in the face of the new competition from flowering plants, Schuettpelz said. Some ferns developed the ability to make a living on light that was more toward the red end of spectrum -- shade, in other words. And, around this time, some ferns also developed the ability to live on trees, sometimes without soil, as epiphytes.

By storing water, developing thicker skin, or being more tolerant to drying out, the epiphytic ferns could now perch on a trunk, limb, or twig and live quite happily more than 100 feet off the forest floor, where moisture, temperature, and sunlight are very different indeed.

Whereas the fossil record seemed to suggest that ferns experienced three distinct pulses of species diversification, the Duke team's analysis shows that there was a fourth, roughly corresponding with the development of epiphytism.

So, as rain forests developed and tropical trees and vines clawed past each other to reach heavenward, they took the ferns up along with them. Thousands of new fern species evolved to take advantage of all the new niches being created in the canopy.

"In some ways I guess, the epiphytes escaped the battle on the ground," Schuettpelz said.

Today, epiphytes comprise about 30 percent of the more than 9,000 living fern species. But this isn't the only plant group that includes epiphytes. This fall, as a post-doctoral fellow at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), Schuettpelz will begin to look for parallel patterns of diversification in epiphytic flowering plants like bromeliads and orchids.

Pryer and Schuettpelz received support from the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Duke University. "Ferns Took To The Trees And Thrived During Cretaceous Period." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 July 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090702110459.htm>.
Duke University. (2009, July 7). Ferns Took To The Trees And Thrived During Cretaceous Period. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090702110459.htm
Duke University. "Ferns Took To The Trees And Thrived During Cretaceous Period." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090702110459.htm (accessed September 20, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) An out-of-control Northern California wildfire has nearly 2,800 people from their homes as it continues to grow, authorities said Thursday. Authorities said a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson for starting the fire on Saturday. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins