Dinosaur age damselfly named after David Attenborough


This video says about itself:

15 August 2017

Damselfly thought to be 100 MILLION years old named after Sir David Attenborough

TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough was last night said to be delighted after a prehistoric insect was named in his honour. Prof. Jarzembowski said: “Dragonflies in amber are extremely rare and the recent discoveries by my Chinese colleagues are a new window on the past. “It is tradition in taxonomy – the naming of a new species – to contact the person concerned. “Sir David was delighted because he is not only interested in the story of amber, but also a president of the British Dragonfly Society.”

Lead author Daran Zheng from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, commented: “Mesosticta davidattenboroughi is quite unique because we have uncovered a new species.” The naming of the species was revealed in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

Mesosticta davidattenboroughi is just the latest species to be named after Sir David whose wildlife documentaries have enchanted the world. Others include a carnivorous plant, a butterfly, a tiny spider, a Peruvian frog and a Namibian lizard. Among the prehistoric species named after him are a Mesozoic reptile, a fossilised armoured fish and a 430 million-year-old crustacean.

From ScienceDaily:

David Attenborough gains new species namesake

August 16, 2017

A new species of damselfly from the Cretaceous period has been named after the iconic naturalist and TV presenter Sir David Attenborough.

The new discovery, described in detail in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, was made in the Hukawng Valley of Kachin Province in Myanmar. The fossil was found in a piece of mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber. The full scientific name for the new species, belonging to a group more commonly known as shadowdamsels, is Mesosticta davidattenboroughi. Researchers decided to name the new species after David Attenborough because of his long-standing appreciation of dragonflies, and to celebrate his recent 90th birthday.

The fossil itself is extremely well preserved as it is encased in yellow transparent amber and includes a complete set of wings. With the aid of photo technology, researchers were able to digitally enhance and build a clear three-dimensional picture of the new species, showing that it differed from previously described fossils, notably in the shorter wing length.

Lead author Daran Zheng from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, commented, “Mesosticta davidattenboroughi is quite unique because we have uncovered a new species and it confirms the previous attribution of Mesosticta to the Platystictidae. It is the first fossil group of modern platystictid damselflies and documents the appearance of Platystictidae as early as mid-Cretaceous.”

The discovery of insect remains in amber is not uncommon, however this particular family of damselflies are much less frequently found and their fossil record is poor compared to many other families making the discovery especially unusual.

Mesosticta davidattenboroughi joins a long list of animals which have been named after Sir David Attenborough, including a weevil and fossil species of a plesiosaur and a fish.

This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, Youth Innovation Promotion Association of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the HKU Seed Funding Program for Basic Research.

See also here. And here.

Dinosaur age flowering trees discovered


Tropidogyne pentaptera. 100-million-year-old fossilized flower identified and named by OSU researchers George Poinar Jr. and Kenton Chambers. Credit: Image courtesy of George Poinar Jr., Oregon State University

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Seven complete specimens of new flower, all 100 million years old

August 15, 2017

A Triceratops or Tyrannosaurus rex bulling its way through a pine forest likely dislodged flowers that 100 million years later have been identified in their fossilized form as a new species of tree.

George Poinar Jr., professor emeritus in Oregon State University’s College of Science, said it’s the first time seven complete flowers of this age have been reported in a single study. The flowers range from 3.4 to 5 millimeters in diameter, necessitating study under a microscope.

Poinar and collaborator Kenton Chambers, professor emeritus in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, named the discovery Tropidogyne pentaptera based on the flowers’ five firm, spreading sepals; the Greek word for five is “penta,” and “pteron” means wing.

“The amber preserved the floral parts so well that they look like they were just picked from the garden,” Poinar said. “Dinosaurs may have knocked the branches that dropped the flowers into resin deposits on the bark of an araucaria tree, which is thought to have produced the resin that fossilized into the amber. Araucaria trees are related to kauri pines found today in New Zealand and Australia, and kauri pines produce a special resin that resists weathering.”

This study builds on earlier research also involving Burmese amber in which Poinar and Chambers described another species in the same angiosperm genus, Tropidogyne pikei; that species was named for its flower’s discoverer, Ted Pike. Findings were recently published in Paleodiversity.

“The new species has spreading, veiny sepals, a nectar disc, and a ribbed inferior ovary like T. pikei,” Poinar said. “But it’s different in that it’s bicarpellate, with two elongated and slender styles, and the ribs of its inferior ovary don’t have darkly pigmented terminal glands like T. pikei.”

Both species have been placed in the extant family Cunoniaceae, a widespread Southern Hemisphere family of 27 genera.

Poinar said T. pentaptera was probably a rainforest tree.

“In their general shape and venation pattern, the fossil flowers closely resemble those of the genus Ceratopetalum that occur in Australia and Papua-New Guinea,” he said. “One extant species is C. gummiferum, which is known as the New South Wales Christmas bush because its five sepals turn bright reddish pink close to Christmas.”

Another extant species in Australia is the coach wood tree, C. apetalum, which like the new species has no petals, only sepals. The towering coach wood tree grows to heights of greater than 120 feet, can live for centuries and produces lumber for flooring, furniture and cabinetwork.

So what explains the relationship between a mid-Cretaceous Tropidogyne from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and an extant Ceratopetalum from Australia, more than 4,000 miles and an ocean away to the southeast?

That’s easy, Poinar said, if you consider the geological history of the regions.

“Probably the amber site in Myanmar was part of Greater India that separated from the southern hemisphere, the supercontinent Gondwanaland, and drifted to southern Asia,” he said. “Malaysia, including Burma, was formed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras by subduction of terranes that successfully separated and then moved northward by continental drift.”

Biggest dinosaur ever discovered


This video from the American Museum of Natural History in the USA says about itself:

14 January 2016

Measuring 122 feet, the Museum’s new exhibit, The Titanosaur, is big–so big that its head extends outside of the Museum’s fourth-floor gallery where it is now on permanent display.

This species of dinosaur, a giant herbivore that belongs to a group known as titanosaurs, is so new that it has not yet been formally named by the paleontologists who discovered it. The Titanosaur lived in the forests of today’s Patagonia about 100 to 95 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous period, and weighed 70 tons. It is one of the largest dinosaurs ever discovered.

The fossils on which this cast is based were excavated in the Patagonian desert region of Argentina by a team from the Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio led by José Luis Carballido and Diego Pol, who received his Ph.D. at the American Museum of Natural History.

In this video, Dr. Mark Norell, chair and Macaulay Curator in the Division of Paleontology, describes how such a massive animal could have supported its own weight and why the Titanosaur is one of the more spectacular finds during what he describes as “the golden age of paleontology.”

Learn more about the Titanosaur here.

Then, this dinosaur had no official name yet. Now, it has: Patagotitan mayorum.

It was about 40 meter long, making it the biggest land animal ever.

The discovery was by scientists of the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio (MEF) in Argentina.

From Proceedings of the Royal Society B:

A new giant titanosaur sheds light on body mass evolution among sauropod dinosaurs

José L. Carballido, Diego Pol, Alejandro Otero, Ignacio A. Cerda, Leonardo Salgado, Alberto C. Garrido, Jahandar Ramezani, Néstor R. Cúneo, Javier M. Krause

Published 9 August 2017

Abstract

Titanosauria was the most diverse and successful lineage of sauropod dinosaurs. This clade had its major radiation during the middle Early Cretaceous and survived up to the end of that period. Among sauropods, this lineage has the most disparate values of body mass, including the smallest and largest sauropods known.

Although recent findings have improved our knowledge on giant titanosaur anatomy, there are still many unknown aspects about their evolution, especially for the most gigantic forms and the evolution of body mass in this clade.

Here we describe a new giant titanosaur, which represents the largest species described so far and one of the most complete titanosaurs. Its inclusion in an extended phylogenetic analysis and the optimization of body mass reveals the presence of an endemic clade of giant titanosaurs inhabited Patagonia between the Albian and the Santonian. This clade includes most of the giant species of titanosaurs and represents the major increase in body mass in the history of Titanosauria.

Troodon dinosaurs, new research


This video is called Troodon: Dinosaur Genius.

From the University of Alberta in Canada:

Dino hips discovery unravels species riddle

Finding opens door for dozens of new species to be discovered

August 8, 2017

New research from University of Alberta paleontologists shows one of North America’s most broadly identified dinosaur species, Troodon formosus, is no longer a valid classification, naming two others in its stead. The discovery by graduate student Aaron van der Reest leaves North America’s paleontology community in upheaval.

In June 2014, van der Reest discovered an intact troodontid pelvis in Dinosaur Provincial Park, leading him to take a closer look at previously collected troodontid cranial bones from southern Alberta.

“That’s when everything fell together and we were able to confirm that there were in fact two different species in the Dinosaur Park Formation, instead of just one,” said van der Reest.

He named one of the new species Latenivenatrix mcmasterae and resurrected another, Stenonychosaurus inequalis.

Setting the record straight

Up until then, the vast majority of troodontid specimens found in North America had been classified as Troodon formosus.

“Troodon formosus has been found from Mexico all the way to Alaska, spanning a 15 million year period — a fantastic and unlikely feat,” explained van der Reest, a graduate student of paleontologist Philip Currie.

“The hips we found could ultimately open the door for dozens of new species to be discovered,” said van der Reest. “Researchers with other specimens now have two new species for comparison, widening our ability to understand the Troodontid family tree in North America.”

Aside from being a new species, Latenivenatrix is in a league of its own.

“This new species is the largest of the troodontids ever found anywhere in the world, standing nearly two metres at the head and close to 3.5 metres long,” van der Reest said. “It’s about fifty per cent larger than any other troodontids previously known, making it one of the largest deinonychosaurs (raptor like dinosaurs) we currently recognize.”

Personal connection

For van der Reest, naming a new dinosaur species has been an especially powerful experience. He has named his discovery Latenivenatrix mcmasterae, or L. mcmasterae, in honour of his late mother, Lynne (McMaster) van der Reest, whose encouragement was essential for his pursuit of paleontology.

“Having brought my first find full circle, from discovery to publishing my research three years later, has been really incredible,” he explained. “I can’t think of a better way to honour her memory.”

The paper “Troodontids (Theropoda) from the Dinosaur Park Formation, Alberta, with a description of a unique new taxon: implications for deinonychosaur diversity in North America” is published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

Dinosaur age diving bird discovery in Japan


This video says about itself:

Hesperornis Tribute

3 May 2009

Hesperornis is an extinct genus of flightless aquatic birds that lived during the Santonian to Campanian sub-epochs of the Late Cretaceous (89-65 mya). One of the lesser known discoveries of paleontologist O. C. Marsh in the late 19th century Bone Wars, it was an important early find in the history of avian paleontology. Famous locations for Hesperornis are the Late Cretaceous marine limestones from Kansas and the marine shales from Canada, but the genus had probably a Holarctic distribution.

Hesperornis was a large bird, reaching up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length. It had virtually no wings, and swam with its powerful hind legs. The toes were probably lobed rather than being webbed, as in today’s grebes; like in these, the toes could rotate well, which is necessary to decrease drag in lobed feet but not in webbed ones such as in loons, where the toes are simply folded together.

Like many other Mesozoic birds such as Ichthyornis, Hesperornis had teeth in its beak which were used to hold prey (most likely fish). In the hesperornithiform lineage they were of a different arrangement than in any other known bird (or in non-avian theropod dinosaurs), with the teeth sitting in a longitudinal groove rather than in individual sockets, in a notable case of convergent evolution with mosasaurs.

The first Hesperornis specimen was discovered in 1871 by Othniel Charles Marsh. Marsh was undertaking a second western expedition, accompanied by ten students. The team headed to Kansas where Marsh had dug before. Aside from finding more bones belonging to the flying reptile Pteranodon, Marsh discovered the skeleton of a “large fossil bird, at least five feet in height”. The specimen was large, wingless, and had strong legs—Marsh considered it a diving species. Unfortunately, the specimen lacked a head. Marsh named the find Hesperornis regalis, or “great ruling bird” [Western ruling bird].

Hesperornis hunted in the waters of such contemporary shelf seas as the North American Inland Sea, the Turgai Strait and the prehistoric North Sea, which then were subtropical to tropical waters, much warmer than today. They probably fed mainly on fish, maybe also crustaceans, cephalopods and mollusks as do the diving seabirds of today. Their teeth were helpful in dealing with slippery or hard-shelled prey.

On land, Hesperornis may or may not have been able to walk. They certainly were not able to stand upright like penguins as in the early reconstructions. Their legs attached far at the back and sideways, with even the lower leg being tightly attached to the body. Thus, they were limited to a clumsy hobble at best on land and would indeed have been more nimble if they moved by sliding on their belly or galumphing. Indeed, the leg skeleton of the hesperornithids was so much adapted to diving that their mode of locomotion while ashore, as well as where it laid its eggs and how it cared for its young is a matter of much speculation.

Some have even pointed out that it cannot be completely ruled out that these birds were ovoviviparous instead of incubating their eggs. In any case, young Hesperornis grew fairly quickly and continuously to adulthood, as is the case in modern birds, but not Enantiornithes. More young birds are known from the fossil record of the more northernly sites than from locations further south. This suggests that at least some species were migratory like today’s penguins which swim polewards in the summer.

Hesperornis were preyed upon by large marine carnivores. Tylosaurus proriger specimen SDSMT 10439 contains the bones of a Hesperornis in its gut, for example.

Now, a relative of Hesperornis has been discovered.

From the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in the USA:

Amateur collectors in Japan discover country’s first and oldest fossil diving bird

August 8, 2017

Summary: Two brothers from a small town in Hokkaido, Japan, made the discovery of their lives — the first and oldest fossil bird ever identified in their country. Identified as a new species, it has been named Chupkaornis keraorum.

During a walk near a reservoir in a small Japanese town, amateur collectors made the discovery of their lives — the first and oldest fossil bird ever identified in their country.

After sharing their mysterious find with paleontologists at Hokkaido University, brothers Masatoshi and Yasuji Kera later learned the skeletal remains were that of an iconic marine diving bird from the Late Cretaceous Period, one that is often found in the Northern Hemisphere but rarely in Asia. The remarkable specimen — which includes nine skeletal elements from one individual, including the thoracic vertebrae and the femoral bones — is being heralded as the “best preserved hesperornithiform material from Asia” and to be “the first report of the hesperorinthiforms from the eastern margin of the Eurasian Continent.”

Identified as a new species, it has been named Chupkaornis keraorum — Chupka is the Ainu word used by indigenous people from Hokkaido for ‘eastern,’ and keraorum is named after Masatoshi and Yasuji Kera, who discovered the specimen. The bird would have lived during the time when dinosaurs roamed the land.

The scientific paper describing the find, entitled “The oldest Asian Hesperornithiform from the Upper Cretaceous of Japan, and the phylogenetic reassessment of Hesperornithiformes,” has been posted on the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology website.

“This amazing find illustrates the special relationship paleontologists and other scientists have with ordinary citizens who come upon interesting and unusual objects,” said Tanaka. “Thanks to the wisdom and willingness of Masatoshi and Yasuji Kera to share their discovery with us at Hokkaido University, they have made a major contribution to science, and we are very grateful.”

The bones, estimated to be anywhere from 90 million to 84 million years old, were unearthed from the Upper Cretaceous Kashima Formation of the Yezo Group in Mikasa City, Hokkaido. The fossil bird consists of four cervical vertebrae, two thoracic vertebrae, the distal end of the left and right femora, and the middle part of the right fibula. The specimen is currently housed in the collection of the Mikasa City Museum in Hokkaido, Japan.

“Hespeornithiforms is the oldest group of birds that succeeded to adapt for diving in ocean. This study provides better understanding in the early evolution of this group and the origin of diving in birds,” added Tanaka.

Chupkaornis has a unique combination of characteristics: finger-like projected tibiofibular crest of femur; deep, emarginated lateral excavation with the sharply defined edge of the ventral margin of that the thoracic vertebrae (those vertebrae in the upper back); and the heterocoelous articular surface of the thoracic vertebrae. Phylogenetic analysis of this study revealed that Chupkaornis is one of the basal hesperornithiforms, thereby providing details of the evolution of this iconic group of diving birds.

“In Japan, many important vertebrate fossils have been discovered by amateurs because most of the land is covered with vegetation, and there are few exposures of fossil-bearing Cretaceous rocks. This research is a result of collaboration with amateurs, and I am thankful to their help and understanding of science,” said Kobayashi.

Hesperornithiformes were toothed, foot-propelled diving birds and one of the most widely distributed groups of birds in the Cretaceous of the northern hemisphere. These birds had extremely reduced forelimbs and powerful hind limbs, suggesting that they were flightless sea-going predatory birds. Most of hesperornithiform fossils have been discovered from North America so far. The discovery of Chupkaornis, the oldest Asian hesperornithiform, suggests that basal hesperornithiform had dispersed to the eastern margin of Asia no later than 90 million to 84 million years old.

The discovery has broader aspects — and that’s why Dr. Fiorillo, curator and vice president of research and collections at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, is involved. Dr. Fiorillo is considered one of the world’s preeminent experts on arctic dinosaurs for his decades of research in Alaska. He has deep interest in the Beringia land bridge that connects North America to Asia. He was asked to collaborate on this discovery because several of the co-authors of the paper, including Kobayashi and lead-author Tanaka, have been members of his field team during past Alaska expeditions.

“This study not only tells important new information about the evolution of this unusual group of birds, it also helps further our understanding of life in the ancient northern Pacific region, more specifically what was going on in the ocean while dinosaurs walked the land” said Fiorillo.

Dinosaur age snails discovered near Prado museum, Spain


This video says about itself:

1 August 2015

Concavenator” is a genus of theropod dinosaur that lived approximately 130 million years ago during the early Cretaceous period. The type species is “C. corcovatus”. “Concavenator corcovatus” means “hump backed hunter from Cuenca”. The fossil was discovered in the Las Hoyas fossil site of Spain by paleontologists José Luis Sanz, Francisco Ortega and Fernando Escaso from the Autonomous University of Madrid and the National University of Distance Learning.

“Concavenator” was a medium-sized primitive carcharodontosaurian dinosaur possessing several unique features. Two extremely tall vertebrae in front of the hips formed a tall but narrow and pointed crest on the dinosaur’s back. The function of such crests is currently unknown. Paleontologist Roger Benson from Cambridge University speculated that one possibility is that “it is analogous to head-crests used in visual displays”, but the Spanish scientists who discovered it noted it could also be a thermal regulator.

Additionally, the forelimb of “Concavenator” preserved evidence of what may be quill knobs or homologous structures, an anatomical feature so far known only in animals with large, quilled feathers on the forelimb.

“Concavenator” had structures resembling quill knobs on its forearm, a feature known only in birds and other feathered theropods, such as “Velociraptor“. Quill knobs are created by ligaments which attach to the feather follicle, and since scales do not form from follicles, the authors ruled out the possibility that they could indicate the presence of long display scales on the arm. Instead, the knobs probably anchored simple, hollow, quill-like structures. Such structures are known both in coelurosaurs such as “Dilong” and in some ornithischians like “Tianyulong” and “Psittacosaurus“.

If the ornithischian quills are homologous with bird feathers, their presence in an allosauroid like “Concavenator” would be expected. However, if ornithischian quills are not related to feathers, the presence of these structures in “Concavenator” would show that feathers had begun to appear in earlier, more primitive forms than coelurosaurs. Feathers or related structures would then likely be present in the first members of the clade Neotetanurae, which lived in the Middle Jurassic. No impressions of any kind of integument were found near the arm, although extensive scale impressions were preserved on other portions of the body, including broad, rectangular scales on the underside of the tail, bird-like scutes on the feet, and plantar pads on the undersides of the feet.

Some amount of skepticism exists among experts about the validity of the interpretation that the ulna bumps represent quill knobs, though a more detailed analysis has not yet been published. Darren Naish of the blog Tetrapod Zoology speculates that the bumps would have been unusually far up and irregularly spaced for quill knobs. He additionally pointed out that many animals have similar structures along intermuscular lines that act as tendon attachment points among other things. This dissent has been supported by Christian Foth and others.

From FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology:

Cretaceous snails conceal themselves in monuments in Madrid

August 3, 2017

The fountains standing next to the Museo del Prado are built using a sedimentary rock full of gastropod shells from the time of the dinosaurs. These fossils have revealed the origin of the stone: forgotten quarries in Redueña, in the province of Madrid, where the building material for the Fountain of Apollo and the Palacio de las Cortes also came from.

In the Fountain of Apollo stone (shown in the image) and the four fountains facing the Museo del Prado, the Trochactaeon lamarcki fossils, a species of gastropod which lived around 85 million years ago, are easily seen. Credit: D.M. Freire-Lista /IGEO

In the Fountain of Apollo stone (shown in the image) and the four fountains facing the Museo del Prado, the Trochactaeon lamarcki fossils, a species of gastropod which lived around 85 million years ago, are easily seen. Credit: D.M. Freire-Lista /IGEO

The tourists who visit the Museo del Prado can take the opportunity to see fossils of snails that lived alongside dinosaurs millions of years ago. They are embedded in the stone of four small fountains designed by the architect Ventura Rodríguez in the 18th century, which stand next to the art gallery.

Now, researchers from the Institute of Geosciences (IGEO, a CSIC-UCM joint centre) have discovered the old quarries where the rock was extracted in order to sculpt these fountains and other monuments in Madrid. The study was published in the journal AIMS Geosciences.

“These quarries, lost over a century ago, are located in Redueña in the province of Madrid,” according to David M. Freire-Lista, one of the authors: “Here the geological formation of the dolomite (a sedimentary rock similar to limestone) known as Castrojimeno presents characteristic features, such as a layer containing fossils that do not appear in other areas.”

Specifically, numerous gastropod fossils (measuring up to 2.5 cm) of the species Trochactaeon lamarcki, which lived in the Upper Cretaceous approximately 85 million years ago, were identified in the fountain stone, which has proven key for dating and tracing the origin of the rocks.

Through historical documents and direct observation, the researchers then confirmed that they are the same quarries which supplied the stone used to construct the jambs, lintels and mantelpieces in the Palacio de las Cortes, where the Spanish Parliament sits.

The same material was also used to build the Fountain of Apollo, located in the Paseo del Prado between the most famous fountains, Neptune and Cybele, whose terrazzo stone was also from Redueña -according to the original plans drawn up by Ventura Rodríguez-, although over time it was replaced by another.

“The dolomite from Redueña containing gastropods was highly used in monuments dating back to the 18th century due to its light colour, ease of carving, and the proximity to Madrid,” points out Freire-Lista. “Its petrographic and petrophysical properties, being of particular note its low solubility and porosity, lend it an excellent quality and durability for use in places where water is present, such as these fountains,” he adds.

Nevertheless, the researchers warn that the passage of time affects even the most resistant stones, and they consider it necessary to carry out petrophysical studies, using non-destructive techniques, to determine the degree of deterioration of the monuments and to take measures for their successful conservation.

200 million years of geological history in the Trinitarians

In another study published in the journal Ge-conservación, the same authors analysed the material used to construct the Convento de las Trinitarias Descalzas de San Ildefonso in Madrid, where the remains of Miguel de Cervantes lie, and they have also found Cretaceous dolomite (in this instance Tamajón-Redueña stone, without gastropods) in the coats of arms and low reliefs on the church’s façade.

“This convent is constructed using the four traditional building stones most representative of the capital: flint, granite, Cretaceous dolomite and Miocene limestone, and the presence of these four on its façade makes it a showcase of the last 200 million years of geological history of the region of Madrid,” concludes the researcher.

Dinosaur age flowers


This video says about itself:

When Did the First Flower Bloom?

3 July 2017

During the Cretaceous Period, dinosaurs were more diverse, more fierce, and more strange than ever. But something else was happening under the feet of the terrible lizards: for the first time in history, there were flowers.

From the University of Vienna in Austria:

What flowers looked like 100 million years ago

August 2, 2017

Flowering plants with at least 300,000 species are by far the most diverse group of plants on Earth. They include almost all the species used by people for food, medicine, and many other purposes. However, flowering plants arose only about 140 million years ago, quite late in the evolution of plants, toward the end of the age of the dinosaurs, but since then have diversified spectacularly. No one knows exactly how this happened, and the origin and early evolution of flowering plants and especially their flowers still remains one of the biggest enigmas in biology, almost 140 years after Charles Darwin called their rapid rise in the Cretaceous “an abominable mystery.”

This new study, the “eFLOWER project,” is an unprecedented international effort to combine information on the structure of flowers with the latest information on the evolutionary tree of flowering plants based on DNA. The results shed new light on the early evolution of flowers as well as major patterns in floral evolution across all living flowering plants.

Among the most surprising results is a new model of the original ancestral flower that does not match any of the ideas proposed previously. “When we finally got the full results, I was quite startled until I realized that they actually made good sense,” said Hervé Sauquet, the leader of the study and an Associate Professor at Université Paris-Sud in France. “No one has really been thinking about the early evolution of flowers in this way, yet so much is easily explained by the new scenario that emerges from our models.”

According to the new study, the ancestral flower was bisexual, with both female (carpels) and male (stamens) parts, and with multiple whorls (concentric cycles) of petal-like organs, in sets of threes. About 20% of flowers today have such “trimerous” whorls, but typically fewer: lilies have two, magnolias have three. “These results call into question much of what has been thought and taught previously about floral evolution!,” said Juerg Schoenenberger, a Professor at the University of Vienna, who coordinated the study together with Hervé Sauquet. It has long been assumed that the ancestral flower had all organs arranged in a spiral.

The researchers also reconstructed what flowers looked like at all the key divergences in the flowering plant evolutionary tree, including the early evolution of monocots (e.g., orchids, lilies, and grasses) and eudicots (e.g., poppies, roses, and sunflowers), the two largest groups of flowering plants. “The results are really exciting!” said Maria von Balthazar, a Senior Scientist and specialist of floral morphology and development at the University of Vienna. “This is the first time that we have a clear vision for the early evolution of flowers across all angiosperms.”

The new study sheds new light on the earliest phases in the evolution of flowers and offers for the first time a simple, plausible scenario to explain the spectacular diversity of floral forms. Nevertheless, many questions remain. The fossil record of flowering plants is still very incomplete, and scientists have not yet found fossil flowers as old as the group itself. “This study is a very important step toward developing a new and increasingly sophisticated understanding of the major patterns in the evolution of flowers,” said Peter Crane, President of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation and a colleague familiar with the results of the study. “It reflects great progress and the results on the earliest flowers are especially intriguing.”

See also here.