White Rose University Consortium logo
University of Leeds logo University of Sheffield logo York University logo

Evolution of leaf-form in land plants linked to atmospheric CO2 decline in the Late Palaeozoic era

Beerling, D.J., Osborne, C.P. and Chaloner, W.G. (2001) Evolution of leaf-form in land plants linked to atmospheric CO2 decline in the Late Palaeozoic era. Nature, 410 (6826). pp. 287-394. ISSN 0028-0836


Download (135Kb)
Published Version: http://www.nature.com/nature


The widespread appearance of megaphyll leaves, with their branched veins and planate form, did not occur until the close of the Devonian period at about 360 Myr ago. This happened about 40 Myr after simple leafless vascular plants first colonized the land in the Late Silurian/Early Devonian, but the reason for the slow emergence of this common feature of present-day plants is presently unresolved. Here we show, in a series of quantitative analyses using fossil leaf characters and biophysical principles, that the delay was causally linked with a 90% drop in atmospheric pCO2 during the Late Palaeozoic era. In contrast to simulations for a typical Early Devonian land plant, possessing few stomata on leafless stems, those for a planate leaf with the same stomatal characteristics indicate that it would have suffered lethal overheating, because of greater interception of solar energy and low transpiration. When planate leaves first appeared in the Late Devonian and subsequently diversified in the Carboniferous period, they possessed substantially higher stomatal densities. This observation is consistent with the effects of the pCO2 on stomatal development and suggests that the evolution of planate leaves could only have occurred after an increase in stomatal density, allowing higher transpiration rates that were sufficient to maintain cool and viable leaf temperatures.

Item Type: Article
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: © 2001 Macmillan Magazines Ltd
Institution: The University of Sheffield
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Science (Sheffield) > School of Biological Sciences (Sheffield) > Department of Animal and Plant Sciences (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Repository Officer
Date Deposited: 20 Sep 2004
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2014 13:38
Published Version: http://www.nature.com/nature
Status: Published
Refereed: Yes
Identification Number: 10.1038/35066546
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/59

Actions (repository staff only: login required)