Researchers have revealed how flowering plants evolved into one of the Earth’s most dominant and diverse groups of organisms.
Naturalist Charles Darwin once described the issue as an “abominable mystery” and his efforts in the area as “wretchedly poor”.
The team, from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Imperial College London, has published the first complete evolutionary “super-tree” of relationships among families of flowering plants in the current edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US.
Using DNA sequence data and statistical techniques for analysing biodiversity, the team concluded that Darwin was correct in his suspicion that there is no simple explanation for the large biodiversity of flowering plants.
Imperial College London lecturer Dr Tim Barraclough said: “There’s a growing consensus that pinning the success of any group on a single innovation, such as insect fertilisation is too simplistic.
“Instead, the diversity of flowering plant families is the result of interaction between existing biological traits and the environment in which the plant grows.”
The John Murray archive is to be sold to the National Library of Scotland for a reported £33 million. The archive includes the manuscript of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
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