Constraining uncertainty in the timescale of angiosperm evolution and the veracity of a Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution

Jose Barba-Montoya, Mario dos Reis, Schneider Harald, Philip Donoghue, Ziheng Yang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)
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Through the lens of the fossil record, angiosperm diversification precipitated a Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution (KTR) in which pollinators, herbivores and predators underwent explosive co-diversification. Molecular dating studies imply that early angiosperm evolution is not documented in the fossil record. This mismatch remains controversial.

We used a Bayesian molecular dating method to analyse a dataset of 83 genes from 644 taxa and 52 fossil calibrations to explore the effect of different interpretations of the fossil record, molecular clock models, data partitioning, etc., on angiosperm divergence time estimation.

Controlling for different sources of uncertainty indicates that the timescale of angiosperm diversification is much less certain than previous molecular dating studies have suggested. Discord between molecular clock and purely fossil-based interpretations of angiosperm diversification may be a consequence of false precision on both sides.
• We reject a post-Jurassic origin of angiosperms, supporting the notion of a cryptic early history of angiosperms, but this history may be as much as 121 Myr, or as little as 23 Myr. These conclusions remain compatible with palaeobotanical evidence and a more general KTR in which major groups of angiosperms diverged later within the Cretaceous, alongside the diversification of pollinators, herbivores and their predators.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalNew Phytologist
Early online date5 Feb 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Feb 2018


  • Bayesian analysis
  • divergence time
  • fossil record
  • angiosperms
  • Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution

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