Palms as a model for rainforest evolution

Nov 08, 2011 By Dr. Bill Baker
Palms provide clues to the diversification of rainforests. Credit: T. Couvreur

(PhysOrg.com) -- The first complete genus-level dated phylogeny of palms reveals insights into the evolution of rainforests.

Understanding how biodiversity is shaped through time is a fundamental question in . Even though tropical rainforests represent the most diverse terrestrial biomes, the timing, location and mechanisms of their diversification remain poorly understood. In a recent paper, scientists from the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (Montpellier), the New York Botanical Garden, and RBG Kew address these issues by constructing the first complete genus-level dated phylogeny of a largely rainforest-restricted plant family, the palms.

Their results indicate that diversification of extant lineages of palms started about 100 million years ago, during the mid-Cretaceous period. Using a range of diversification analyzes, the authors conclude that palms diversified in a rainforest-like environment at northern latitudes and have conformed to a constant model (the 'museum' model or Yule process), at least until the Neogene.

These results imply the presence of a rainforest-like biome in the mid-Cretaceous period of Laurasia, considerably earlier than the first reliable fossil evidence for rainforests in the early Tertiary. Controversially, the results also suggest that ancient and steady evolutionary processes dating back to the mid-Cretaceous period can contribute, at least in part, to present day species richness in rainforests, perhaps due to the persistence of refugia during climatically unfavourable periods.

Explore further: Meteorite that doomed dinosaurs remade forests

More information: Couvreour, T. L. P., et al. (2011). Origin and global diversification patterns of tropical rain forests: inferences from a complete genus-level phylogeny of palms. BMC Biology 9: 44 (open access).

Provided by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why more species live in the Amazon rainforests

May 04, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- For more than two hundred years, the question of why there are more species in the tropics has been a biological enigma.  A particularly perplexing aspect is why so many species live ...

Ancient rainforests resilient to climate change

Oct 01, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Climate change wreaked havoc on the Earth’s first rainforests but they quickly bounced back, scientists reveal today. The findings of the research team, led by Dr Howard Falcon-Lang from ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite that doomed dinosaurs remade forests

18 hours ago

The meteorite impact that spelled doom for the dinosaurs 66 million years ago decimated the evergreens among the flowering plants to a much greater extent than their deciduous peers, according to a study ...

New camera sheds light on mate choice of swordtail fish

20 hours ago

We have all seen a peacock show its extravagant, colorful tail feathers in courtship of a peahen. Now, a group of researchers have used a special camera developed by an engineer at Washington University in ...

App helps homeowners identify spiders

23 hours ago

Each autumn the number of spiders seen indoors suddenly increases as males go on the hunt for a mate. The Society of Biology is launching a new app to help the public learn more about the spiders that will ...

User comments : 0