Study how plants colonized the earth half a billion years ago

Landscaping the coast

The diversity of flora and fauna as we know them today and the substrate on which they grow are due to a species of algae that first came ashore more than 500 million years ago. Credit: Mona Schreiber

A team led by evolutionary biologist Prof. Dr. Sven Gould of the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf (HHU) is studying the current state of research on plant colonization of the earth, which occurred about 500 million years ago. The results of this illustrated review published by Dr. Mona Schreiber as a lead author has already appeared in the latest issue of the magazine Trends in plant science.

It took several hundred million years after the Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago to cool the original fireball that allowed the first oceans and earth masses to form. The earth was a barren rock for the next three billion years.

The blue planet with green continents we know today did not exist as such in that era. Conditions on the continents were largely hostile to life, with much higher volcanic activity emitting toxic gases into the atmosphere, a weaker magnetic field than today, exposing the earth more to cosmic raysand a thinner ozone layer to filter UV light.

This began to change about 500 million years ago, when plants began to colonize the earth. The invasion catalyzed the metamorphosis of the hostile environment, accelerating the transformation of the atmosphere to lay the foundations for the development of life on land as we know it today. All this can happen only after the plants that lived only in the oceans and inland fresh waters have conquered the continents.

Now Prof. Dr. Sven Gould of the Institute of Molecular Evolution at HHU, Prof. Dr. Stefan Rensing and Dr. Mona Schreiber, a bioinformatics specialist and artist at the University of Marburg, provides an overview of the current state of research on plant colonization of the earth in the journal Trends in plant science.

The continents began to turn green only after streptophytic algae moved from an aquatic habitat to coastal areas, before fully landing more than 500 million years ago, in a process involving many molecular and morphological adaptations. During the current changes in the Earth, plants have demonstrated a great ability to adapt and changed the climate in a crucial way, mainly by fixing carbon dioxide (CO2) on a huge scale.

The terrestrial flora spreads in a dominant circumference of force, with flowering plants multiplying in an explosive manner; today they make up over 90% of all known terrestrial plant species. In the history of our planet, terrestrial plants have caused several climate changedemonstrating great adaptability over and over again.

Researchers are studying the genomes of species of evolutionary importance in terms of terrestrialization, including mosses, lycopods, ferns and some algae, in an attempt to expand their knowledge of evolutionary processes and molecular adaptation. Their work is aimed at identifying the mechanisms that serve to mitigate the hostile living conditions on land that have changed in the course of this evolution. They may indeed be relevant in terms of climate changeincluding crop modification in response to changing environmental conditions.

Regarding the role of humans in the evolution of the planet, the study’s senior author, Professor Gould, explains: “Human beings, who have only a brief history compared to plants, are indeed responsible for significant changes in the planet and its climate. the extreme speed of these changes is a serious problem, as nature has little time to adapt. The pace of man-made change accelerated as people developed agriculture and animal husbandrywhich led to stable population growth and the clearing of more and more land for agriculture. “In this paper, the collaborating authors analyze the human impact on the climate, discussing the adaptability of plant life to the changes that are unfolding today.

Water repellency as the first step towards life on land a billion years ago

More info:
Sven Gould et al., Green Beach, Trends in plant science (2022). DOI: 10.1016 / j.tplants.2022.05.005

Provided by the Heinrich-Heine University of Düsseldorf

Quote: Study of how plants colonized the earth half a billion years ago (2022, June 20), retrieved on June 20, 2022 from

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