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Exploring how plants colonized land half a billion years ago

The greening ashore

The diversity of flora and fauna as we know it today and the substrate on which it thrives is due to a single species of algae that first made landfall more than 500 million years ago. Credit: Mona Schreiber

A team led by evolutionary biologist Prof. dr. Sven Gould of Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU) has studied the current state of research into the plant colonization of land that took place some 500 million years ago. The findings of this illustrated review study, published by Dr. Mona Schreiber as lead author, have now appeared in the latest issue of the magazine Trends in plant science

After the formation of the earth, about 4.5 billion years ago, it took several hundred million years for the initially fiery globe to cool, allowing the first oceans and land masses to form. The land was barren rock for the next three billion years.

The blue planet with green continents that we know today did not exist as such at that time. Conditions on the continents were largely hostile to life, with much higher volcanic activity releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere, a weaker magnetic field than exists today, exposing the country more to cosmic rays, and a thinner ozone layer for the planet. filtering UV light.

This started to change about 500 million years ago when plants began to colonize land. The invasion catalyzed a metamorphosis of the hostile environment, accelerating the transformation of the atmosphere, to lay the foundation for the development of life on land as we know it today. All this could not happen until plants, which had lived only in the oceans and freshwater inland, 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 from the University of Marburg, reviews the current state of research on land plant colonization in the journal Trends in plant science

The continents only started to turn green after a streptophyte alga moved from an aquatic habitat to coastal zones before transitioning completely to land more than 500 million years ago, in a process involving numerous molecular and morphological adaptations. During the constant changes of the earth, plants showed tremendous adaptability and changed the climate in a crucial way, mainly through carbon dioxide (CO2) on a large scale.

Terrestrial flora proliferated in a dominant feat, with flowering plants proliferating; today they comprise more than 90% of all known terrestrial plant species. In the history of our planet, land plants have caused several climatic changes, demonstrating time and again their enormous adaptability.

Researchers are studying the genomes of species of evolutionary importance related to terrestralization, including mosses, lycopods, ferns and certain algae, in an effort to advance our understanding of evolutionary processes and molecular adaptation. Their work aims to identify the mechanisms that served to mitigate the hostile living conditions on land, which changed over the course of this evolution. Indeed, these may be relevant with regard to climate change, including for crop modification in response to changing environmental conditions.

Regarding the role of humans in the evolution of the planet, the study’s lead author, Professor Gould, clarifies: “Humans, who have only a short history compared to plants, are indeed responsible for significant changes to the planet on their own and its climate.The extreme rate of those changes is a major problem because nature has little time to adapt.The pace of man-made change accelerated as humans developed agriculture and livestock, leading to steady population growth and freeing up more and more land for agriculture.” In this work, the collaborating authors analyze human influences on climate and discuss the adaptability of plant life to the changes occurring today.

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

More information:
Sven Gould et al, The Greening Ashore, Trends in plant science (2022). DOI: 10.116/j.tplants.2022.05.005

Provided by Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf

Quote: Exploring how plants colonized land half a billion years ago (2022, June 20) retrieved June 20, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-exploring-colonized-billion-years.html

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