What can lycophytes teach us about plant evolution and development? Modern perspectives on an ancient lineage

Victoria M R Spencer, Zoe Nemec Venza, C Jill Harrison*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

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All Evo‐Devo studies rely on representative sampling across the tree of interest to elucidate evolutionary trajectories through time. In land plants, genetic resources are well established in model species representing lineages including bryophytes (mosses, liverworts, and hornworts), monilophytes (ferns and allies), and seed plants (gymnosperms and flowering plants), but few resources are available for lycophytes (club mosses, spike mosses, and quillworts). Living lycophytes are a sister group to the euphyllophytes (the fern and seed plant clade), and have retained several ancestral morphological traits despite divergence from a common ancestor of vascular plants around 420 million years ago. This sister relationship offers a unique opportunity to study the conservation of traits such as sporophyte branching, vasculature, and indeterminacy, as well as the convergent evolution of traits such as leaves and roots which have evolved independently in each vascular plant lineage. To elucidate the evolution of vascular development and leaf formation, molecular studies using RNA Seq, quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, in situ hybridisation and phylogenetics have revealed the diversification and expression patterns of KNOX, ARP, HD‐ZIP, KANADI, and WOX gene families in lycophytes. However, the molecular basis of further trait evolution is not known. Here we describe morphological traits of living lycophytes and their extinct relatives, consider the molecular underpinnings of trait evolution and discuss future research required in lycophytes to understand the key evolutionary innovations enabling the growth and development of all vascular plants.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12350
Number of pages23
JournalEvolution and Development
Early online date9 Sep 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Sep 2020


  • clubmoss
  • Evo‐devo
  • lycophytes
  • quillwort
  • Selaginella
  • spikemoss
  • vasculature


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