Fossils and plant phylogeny

Am J Bot. 2004 Oct;91(10):1683-99. doi: 10.3732/ajb.91.10.1683.


Developing a detailed estimate of plant phylogeny is the key first step toward a more sophisticated and particularized understanding of plant evolution. At many levels in the hierarchy of plant life, it will be impossible to develop an adequate understanding of plant phylogeny without taking into account the additional diversity provided by fossil plants. This is especially the case for relatively deep divergences among extant lineages that have a long evolutionary history and in which much of the relevant diversity has been lost by extinction. In such circumstances, attempts to integrate data and interpretations from extant and fossil plants stand the best chance of success. For this to be possible, what will be required is meticulous and thorough descriptions of fossil material, thoughtful and rigorous analysis of characters, and careful comparison of extant and fossil taxa, as a basis for determining their systematic relationships.