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A hidden cradle of plant evolution in Permian tropical lowlands

20 / 12 / 2018, Science Now

The latitudinal biodiversity gradient today has deep roots in the evolutionary history of Earth’s biota over geologic time. In the marine realm, earliest fossil occurrences at low latitudes reveal a tropical cradle for many animal groups. However, the terrestrial fossil record—especially from drier environments that are thought to drive evolutionary innovation—is sparse. We present mixed plant-fossil assemblages from Permian equatorial lowlands in present-day Jordan that harbor precocious records of three major seed-plant lineages that all became dominant during the Mesozoic, including the oldest representative of any living conifer family. These finds offer a glimpse of the early evolutionary origins of modern plant groups in disturbance-prone tropical habitats that are usually hidden from observation.

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