Flowers Reveal the Evolution of Evolution

Flowers Reveal the Evolution of Evolution

29.10.17

Dr Ofir Katz from the Dead Sea branch offers a novel viewpoint on the origin of flowers and how to treat questions in evolutionary history

Some 140 million years ago, following 300 million years of plant evolution on land, an innovation appeared – the flower. Within approximately 20 million years (and evolutionary heartbeat) flowering plants succeeded in taking over the world. Some of the earliest flowering plants-dominated ecosystems were found in the southern Arava, Makhtesh Ramon and the southern Judean Desert, dated to be 120 million years old. Nowadays, over 90% of land plant species are bear flowers. This fast success has puzzled many biologists since Darwin's days, but a satisfying explanation has yet to be found. Dr Ofir Katz from the ADSSC's Dead Sea branch suggests that in order to answer this question, scientists need to extend their scope and look into general patterns of in the evolution of Life itself.

In a paper recently published in Annals of Botany (part of Oxford University Press), Ofir reviews the evidence for the fast success of flowering plants and the theories that were proposed to explain this phenomenon. This review reveals that the answer already lies under our noses, but requires looking at it in a different angle. So far, scientists have focused on the phenomenon itself while neglecting to consider that it is a part of the longer process of terrestrial biodiversity and ecological complexity evolving over 450 million years. This extended viewpoint teaches us that the variety of plant and animal species is constantly increasing (despite five mega extinctions). Moreover, evolutionary branches that evolved "technological innovations" later in evolutionary history, i.e. in a more ecologically diverse and complex world, achieve greater dominance and greater species diversity within shorter times. Therefore, the evolution of biodiversity is self-motivating. As the latest plant group to evolve, it is unsurprising that flowering plants were able to conquer the world so fast.

In an interview to Hayadan, the Israeli science news website, Ofir talks about the mystery, his new paper, and the worrying consequences for an era in which Mankind leads towards a sixth mega extinction. 

Toe the interview with Ofir in Hayadan (Hebrew only): https://www.hayadan.org.il/why-did-flowering-plants-suddenly-take-over-the-earth-in-a-short-geological-time-2710171
 in Ynet (Hebrew only): http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5038134,00.html

To the paper: https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcx109