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Timescale of early land plant evolution

Morris, Jennifer L. ORCID:, Puttick, Mark N., Clark, James W., Edwards, Dianne ORCID:, Kenrick, Paul, Pressel, Silvia, Wellman, Charles H., Yang, Ziheng, Schneider, Harald and Donoghue, Philip C.J. 2018. Timescale of early land plant evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115 (10) , E2274-E2283. 10.1073/pnas.1719588115

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Establishing the timescale of early land plant evolution is essential for testing hypotheses on the coevolution of land plants and Earth’s System. The sparseness of early land plant megafossils and stratigraphic controls on their distribution make the fossil record an unreliable guide, leaving only the molecular clock. However, the application of molecular clock methodology is challenged by the current impasse in attempts to resolve the evolutionary relationships among the living bryophytes and tracheophytes. Here, we establish a timescale for early land plant evolution that integrates over topological uncertainty by exploring the impact of competing hypotheses of bryophyte−tracheophyte relationships, among other variables, on divergence time estimation. We codify 37 fossil calibrations for Viridiplantae following best practice. We apply these calibrations in a Bayesian relaxed molecular clock analysis of a phylogenomic dataset encompassing the diversity of Embryophyta and their relatives within Viridiplantae. Topology and dataset sizes have little impact on age estimates, with greater differences among alternative clock models and calibration strategies. For all analyses, a Cambrian origin of Embryophyta is recovered with highest probability. The estimated ages for crown tracheophytes range from Ordovician to Silurian. This timescale implies an early establishment of terrestrial ecosystems by land plants that is in close accord with recent estimates for the origin of terrestrial animal lineages. Biogeochemical models that are constrained by the fossil record of early land plants, or attempt to explain their impact, must consider the implications of a much earlier, Cambrian– Early Ordovician, origin.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Subjects: Q Science > QE Geology
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH426 Genetics
Q Science > QK Botany
Additional Information: This open access article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND).
Publisher: National Academy of Sciences
ISSN: 0027-8424
Funders: NERC (NE/N003438/1), NERC (NE/J012610/1), BBSRC (BB/N000919/1), Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 21 February 2018
Date of Acceptance: 17 January 2018
Last Modified: 05 May 2023 17:44

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