How forgotten Colorado fossils may rewrite part of plant evolutionary history
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Botanists and paleontologists, led by researchers from CU Boulder, have identified a fossil chili pepper that may rewrite the geography and evolutionary timeline of the tomato plant family.
The team's findings, published last month in the journal New Phytologist, show that the chili pepper tribe (Capsiceae) within the tomato—nightshade (Solanaceae)—family is much older and was much more widespread than previously thought. Scientists previously believed that chili peppers evolved in South America at most 15 million years ago, but new research pushes that date to at least 50 million years ago—and suggests that chili peppers were in fact present in North America at that time.
New Phytologist publication: R. Deanna e.a. Fossil berries reveal global radiation of the nightshade family by the early Cenozoic
- Fossil discoveries can transform our understanding of plant diversification over time and space. Recently described fossils in many plant families have pushed their known records farther back in time, pointing to alternative scenarios for their origin and spread.
- Here, we describe two new Eocene fossil berries of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) from the Esmeraldas Formation in Colombia and the Green River Formation in Colorado (USA). The placement of the fossils was assessed using clustering and parsimony analyses based on 10 discrete and five continuous characters, which were also scored in 291 extant taxa.
- The Colombian fossil grouped with members of the tomatillo subtribe, and the Coloradan fossil aligned with the chili pepper tribe. Along with two previously reported early Eocene fossils from the tomatillo genus, these findings indicate that Solanaceae were distributed at least from southern South America to northwestern North America by the early Eocene.
- Together with two other recently discovered Eocene berries, these fossils demonstrate that the diverse berry clade and, in turn, the entire nightshade family, is much older and was much more widespread in the past than previously thought
I currently have no access to the full publication. Perhaps we could poke her for some seeds