Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

First rainforests arose when plants solved plumbing problem

Date:
May 4, 2011
Source:
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Summary:
A team of scientists has discovered that leaves of flowering plants in the world's first rainforests had more veins per unit area than leaves ever had before. They suggest that this increased the amount of water available to the leaves, making it possible for plants to capture more carbon and grow larger. A better plumbing system may also have radically altered water and carbon movement through forests, driving environmental change.

Fossil evidence indicates that vein density increased in the leaves of flowering plants. Scientists suggest that this permitted the plants to transport more water and conduct more photosynthesis, leading to the evolution of giant, rainforest trees and productive, biodiverse forests.
Credit: STRI Archives

A team of scientists, including several from the Smithsonian Institution, discovered that leaves of flowering plants in the world's first rainforests had more veins per unit area than leaves ever had before. They suggest that this increased the amount of water available to the leaves, making it possible for plants to capture more carbon and grow larger. A better plumbing system may also have radically altered water and carbon movement through forests, driving environmental change.

Related Articles


"It's fascinating that a simple leaf feature such as vein density allows one to study plant performance in the past," said Klaus Winter, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, who was not an author, "Of course, you can't directly measure water flow through fossil leaves. When plants fix carbon, they lose water to the atmosphere. So to become highly productive, as many modern flowering plants are, requires that plants have a highly elaborate plumbing system."

A walk through a tropical forest more than 100 million years ago would have been different than a walk through a modern rainforest. Dinosaurs were shaded by flowerless plants like cycads and ferns. Fast-forward 40 million years. The dinosaurs have disappeared and the first modern rainforests have appeared: a realm of giant trees -- with flowers. By examining images of more than 300 hundred kinds of fossil leaves, the team, led by Taylor Feild from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, counted how many veins there were in a given area of leaf. Flowerless plants then and now have relatively few veins. But their work shows that even after flowering plants evolved, it took some time before they developed the efficient plumbing systems that would allow them to develop into giant life-forms like tropical trees. The density of veins in the leaves of flowering plants increased at least two different times as the transition from ancient to modern rainforests took place, according to this research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The first jump -- when the vein density in fossil leaves of flowering plants first exceeded vein density in the leaves of flowerless plants -- took place approximately one hundred million years ago. The second and more significant increase in vein density took place 35 million years later. Petrified tree trunks more than a meter in diameter were first found from this period, indicating another landmark -- the evolution of flowering trees. Soon the leaves of flowering plants had twice more veins per unit leaf area than the non-flowering plants. By the end of the Cretaceous period about 65 million years ago, the number of leaf veins per unit area was very similar to that of modern rainforest leaves.

As often happens, this study has seeded new questions. Did improvements in the plumbing system of flowering plants make giant rainforest trees possible? How important was this change in the plants to climate changes that were taking place at the time? Were these plants better able to take advantage of naturally occurring wet environments that were created by tectonic activity or changes in ocean circulation patterns, or did the trees themselves contribute to climate change by pumping more water into the atmosphere?


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Taylor S. Feild, Timothy J. Brodribb, Ari Iglesias, David S. Chatelet, Andres Baresch, Gary Upchurch, Bernard Gomez, Barbara Mohr, Clement Coiffard, Jiri Kvacek and Carlos Jaramillo. Fossil evidence for Cretaceous escalation in angiosperm leaf vein evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1014455108

Cite This Page:

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "First rainforests arose when plants solved plumbing problem." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110503133042.htm>.
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. (2011, May 4). First rainforests arose when plants solved plumbing problem. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110503133042.htm
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "First rainforests arose when plants solved plumbing problem." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110503133042.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Reuters - Entertainment Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) The iconic piano from "Casablanca" and the Cowardly Lion suit from "The Wizard of Oz" fetch millions at auction. Sara Hemrajani reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pet Dogs to Be Used in Anti-Ageing Trial

Pet Dogs to Be Used in Anti-Ageing Trial

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) Researchers in the United States are preparing to discover whether a drug commonly used in human organ transplants can extend the lifespan and health quality of pet dogs. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) The US FDA is announcing new calorie rules on Tuesday that will require everywhere from theaters to vending machines to include calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 25, 2014) Take a stab at this -- stunt video shows a lamb chop's journey from an east London restaurant over 30 kilometers into space. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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