Advances in Flowering Plant Evolution


Flowering plants are the most important plants in the terrestrial ecosystem at most latitudes and altitudes and they are of direct and critical economic importance to our society in many dimensions. They are the most variable seed plants in terms of morphological characteristics and habit and are the most diverse of all plants. It is no surprise that they have been the objects of a great deal of attention from the research community. What is surprising is the scale of the uncertainty surrounding our basic knowledge of angiosperms. Angiosperm relationships are only now being resolved through the application of various algorithms to the combination of molecular geneticsā€derived data and morphological data. Yet the relationship of the angiosperms themselves to nonangiospermous seed plants, or understanding the origin of this major group, still remains a hotly contested mystery and explanations for the relative and stunning success of the angiosperms are still being debated. Even precise knowledge of timing in the history of angiosperms is unsettled due to conflicts between timing implied by existing fossil evidence and timing suggested from extrapolations from molecular clock timing models. Finally, questions remain as to the causes of the remarkable success of angiosperms relative to all other plants and seed plants in species numbers and ecological dominance. Recent advances provide insights into some of these persistent questions, whereas others remain unresolved in spite of advances in investigatory techniques now being applied to them.

Key Concepts:

  • The importance of an improved fossil record in understanding angiosperm evolution is considered with respect to angiosperm origins and success.

  • The importance of new algorithms in reducing the level of subjectivity in assessments of flowering plant relationships is discussed.

  • This article contains an appraisal of angiosperm aspects that might be related to their successful species diversity.

  • The idea of inevitable subjectivity in attempts to determine angiosperm relationships based on morphological characters is discussed.

  • Historical development of views on angiosperm relationships is considered in this article.

Keywords: flowering plants; algorithm; molecular genetics; objectivity; abominable mystery

Figure 1.

Percentage distribution of extant species assigned to different embryophyte plant groups. For convenience, some species groupings are polyphyletic and thus represent a grade level of reproductive organisation (e.g. gymnosperms). Redrawn from Crepet and Niklas, . © Botanical Society of America.

Figure 2.

Turonian‐aged (Late Cretaceous, ∼92mybp) fossil flower, Raritaniflora tomentosa. From Crepet et al., . © University of Chicago Press.

Figure 3.

Phylogenetic tree of the flowering plants (angiosperm). Redrawn from the APG III web site. © Angiospern Phylogeny Group.

Figure 4.

First appearances of key floral characters and character states and standing extant species diversity in angiosperm families cooccurring in the fossil record. Bold lines highlight geological periods for which data are available; thin lines and question marks indicate predicted numbers of floral character states based on standing species numbers. Redrawn from Crepet and Niklas, . © Botanical Society of America.



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Further Reading

Taylor TN, Taylor EL and Krings M (2008) Paleobotany, The Biology and Evolution of Fossil Plants. Amsterdam: Elsevier. 978 pp.

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Crepet, William L(Mar 2014) Advances in Flowering Plant Evolution. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023964]