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evolution Archives - The Global Plant Council

Siberian prim­rose has not had time to ad­apt to cli­mate change

By | Climate change, News, Plant Science, Scandinavian Plant Physiology Society

Global warming already affects Siberian primrose, a plant species that is threatened in Finland and Norway. According to a recently completed study, individuals of Siberian primrose originating in the Finnish coast on the Bothnian Bay currently fare better in northern Norway than in their home area. The results indicate that the species may not be able to adapt to quickly progressing climate change, which could potentially lead to its extinction.

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Tropical trees are living time capsules of human history

By | Forestry, Global Collaborations, News, Plant Science

Tropical forest trees are the centerpiece of debates on conservation, climate change and carbon sequestration today. While their ecological importance has never been doubted, what has often been ignored is their ability to store cultural heritage. Using recent advances in scientific methods and a better understanding of the growth of these trees, researchers can now uncover, in detail, the growing conditions, including human management, that have occurred around these ancient giants over their centuries-long life span.

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Chang Min SHIN / Pixabay

What’s the story Morning Glory? Taxonomy, evolution and sweet potatoes

By | Agriculture, Botany, Fruits and Vegetables, News

Scientists at the University of Oxford reveal that the sweet potato and its storage root originated at least 2 million years ago — that is, not only before agriculture but also long before modern humans appeared on Earth.

The scientists’ research indicates that the storage root was an already-existing trait that predisposed the plant for cultivation and not solely the result of human domestication, as previously thought. This discovery, published in Nature Plants, is part of a comprehensive monographic study of the morning glories, the biggest study of this group of plants to date, which also contributes important insights to the taxonomy and evolution of this megadiverse group of plants.

The researchers also discovered that sweet potato is not the only species of morning glory that produces storage roots. In fact at least 62 other species in the group also produce these underground organs, some of them as big as those of the sweet potato and many also edible.

Dr Pablo Muñoz, from Oxford‘s Department of Plant Sciences, whose PhD thesis formed a significant part of the paper, said: ‘Most other studies trying to understand the evolution of the sweet potato assumed that its storage root is a product of domestication by humans whereas this study demonstrates that storage roots evolved many times independently in different species including sweet potato before humans.’

The plant genus Ipomoea, commonly known as morning glories, is one of the largest groups of flowering plants in the world. It includes over 800 species, including many ornamental plants and one of the most important crops for human consumption: the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). However, despite their importance and widespread distribution, most species of morning glories are very poorly known and have never been studied across their entire geographical range, hindering the understanding of this important group of plants.

Researchers at the University of Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences have led the first comprehensive monographic study of the morning glories at a global scale. It is a long-term collaboration with colleagues at the International Potato Center, in Peru, Oregon State and Duke Universities in the US and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Their results include the description of 63 new species (almost 10% of the species known in the whole genus) and the identification of a large number of synonyms — entities described in different places under different names that are, in reality, the same species.

Their methods could offer a solution to the massive backlog in documenting and describing the bulk of the world’s plant species.

The scientists demonstrate how a monographic taxonomic study, carried out at a global scale, can make massive contributions to our understanding of the diversity existing in poorly known groups of organisms. By working out the evolution of the morning glories, they were also able to investigate several questions pertaining to the origin and evolution of the sweet potato.

The research uses herbarium specimens — dried plants preserved in botanical gardens, museums and other institutions — for both morphological comparative studies and molecular analyses. Herbarium specimens constitute an unparalleled resource with which to address the study of inadequately known groups of plants and is the only feasible way to study megadiverse tropical groups across their entire distribution.

Lead author, Professor Robert Scotland, said: ‘We hope this study acts as a catalyst in demonstrating the scale of progress that can be achieved. Taxonomy has often been perceived as a merely descriptive science, a continuation of the work carried out by 18th and 19th century naturalists and no longer necessary.

‘However, we believe that an accurate, up-to-date taxonomy is necessary to tackle the biodiversity crisis. A large percentage of tropical plant species are so poorly known that, in practice, they are invisible to conservation studies. Taxonomy is the science that underpins biology and provides our basic knowledge of what species there are and where they live. Our study demonstrates the potential of taxonomy, through the integration of morphological studies and molecular analyses, to contribute to understanding much of the plant diversity existing on Earth.’

Professor Robert Scotland said

Read the paper: Nature Plants

Article source: University of Oxford

Image credit: Chang Min SHIN / Pixabay

Scientists present new data on the evolution of plants and the origin of species

By | News, Plant Science

There are over 500,000 plant species in the world today. They all evolved from a common ancestor. How this leap in biodiversity happened is still unclear. An international team of researchers presents the results of a unique project on the evolution of plants. Using genetic data from 1,147 species the team created the most comprehensive evolutionary tree for green plants to date.

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