The age of flowering plants is unknown

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Authors

Hervé Sauquet, Santiago Ramírez-Barahona, Susana Magallón

Abstract

The origin of flowering plants (angiosperms) was one of the most transformative events in the history of our planet. Despite considerable interest from multiple research fields, numerous questions remain, including the age of the group as a whole. Recent studies have reported a perplexing range of estimates for the crown-group age of angiosperms, from ca. 140 Ma (Early Cretaceous) to 270 Ma (Permian). Both ends of the spectrum are now supported by both quantitative analyses of the fossil record and fossil-calibrated molecular dating analyses. Here, we first clarify and distinguish among the three ages of angiosperms: the age of their divergence with acrogymnosperms (stem age), the age(s) of emergence of their unique, distinctive features including flowers (morphological age), and the age of the most recent common ancestor of all their living species (crown age). We then demonstrate, based on recent studies, that fossil-calibrated molecular dating estimates of the crown-group age of angiosperms have little to do with either the amount of molecular data or the number of internal fossil calibrations included. Instead, we argue that this age is almost entirely conditioned by its own prior. Lastly, we discuss which future discoveries or novel types of analyses are most likely to bring more definitive answers. In the meantime, we propose that the age of angiosperms is best described as unknown (140–270 Ma) and that future work that depends on the time scale of flowering plant diversification be designed to integrate over this vexing uncertainty.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.32942/osf.io/n4v6b

Subjects

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Evolution, Life Sciences

Keywords

angiosperms, crown age, divergence times, fossil record, morphological age, priors, stem age, uncertainty

Dates

Published: 2021-10-10 04:14

License

CC-By Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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