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, 355 (1398), 847-55

The Relationships of Vascular Plants


The Relationships of Vascular Plants

P Kenrick. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci.


Recent phylogenetic research indicates that vascular plants evolved from bryophyte-like ancestors and that this involved extensive modifications to the life cycle. These conclusions are supported by a range of systematic data, including gene sequences, as well as evidence from comparative morphology and the fossil record. Within vascular plants, there is compelling evidence for two major clades, which have been termed lycophytes (clubmosses) and euphyllophytes (seed plants, ferns, horsetails). The implications of recent phylogenetic work are discussed with reference to life cycle evolution and the interpretation of stratigraphic inconsistencies in the early fossil record of land plants. Life cycles are shown to have passed through an isomorphic phase in the early stages of vascular plant evolution. Thus, the gametophyte generation of all living vascular plants is the product of massive morphological reduction. Phylogenetic research corroborates earlier suggestions of a major representational bias in the early fossil record. Mega-fossils document a sequence of appearance of groups that is at odds with that predicted by cladogram topology. It is argued here that the pattern of appearance and diversification of plant megafossils owes more to changing geological conditions than to rapid biological diversification.

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