Fossil data support a pre-Cretaceous origin of flowering plants

Daniele Silvestro*, Christine Bacon, Wenna Ding, Qiuyue Zhang, Philip C J Donoghue , Antonelli Alexandre, Yaowu Xing

*Corresponding author for this work

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

9 Citations (Scopus)
101 Downloads (Pure)


Flowering plants (angiosperms) are the most diverse of all land plants, becoming abundant in the Cretaceous and achieving dominance in the Cenozoic. However, the exact timing of their origin remains a controversial topic, with molecular clocks generally placing their origin much further back in time than the oldest unequivocal fossils. To resolve this discrepancy, we developed a Bayesian method to estimate the ages of angiosperm families on the basis of the fossil record (a newly compiled dataset of ~15,000 occurrences in 198 families) and their living diversity. Our results indicate that several families originated in the Jurassic, strongly rejecting a Cretaceous origin for the group. We report a marked increase in lineage accumulation from 125 to 72 million years ago, supporting Darwin’s hypothesis of a rapid Cretaceous angiosperm diversification. Our results demonstrate that a pre-Cretaceous origin of angiosperms is supported not only by molecular clock approaches but also by analyses of the fossil record that explicitly correct for incomplete sampling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-457
Number of pages9
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number4
Early online date28 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2021


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