Flammable biomes dominated by eucalypts originated at the Cretaceous–Palaeogene boundary

Crisp, Michael D., Burrows, Geoffrey E., Cook, Lyn G., Thornhill, Andrew H., and Bowman, David M.J.S. (2011) Flammable biomes dominated by eucalypts originated at the Cretaceous–Palaeogene boundary. Nature Communications, 2. 193. pp. 1-8.

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Abstract

Fire is a major modifier of communities, but the evolutionary origins of its prevalent role in shaping current biomes are uncertain. Australia is among the most fire-prone continents, with most of the landmass occupied by the fire-dependent sclerophyll and savanna biomes. In contrast to biomes with similar climates in other continents, Australia has a tree flora dominated by a single genus, Eucalyptus, and related Myrtaceae. A unique mechanism in Myrtaceae for enduring and recovering from fire damage likely resulted in this dominance. Here, we find a conserved phylogenetic relationship between post-fire resprouting (epicormic) anatomy and biome evolution, dating from 60 to 62 Ma, in the earliest Palaeogene. Thus, fire-dependent communities likely existed 50 million years earlier than previously thought. We predict that epicormic resprouting could make eucalypt forests and woodlands an excellent long-term carbon bank for reducing atmospheric CO2 compared with biomes with similar fire regimes in other continents.

Item ID: 35603
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2041-1723
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC), Hermon Slade Foundation
Date Deposited: 01 Oct 2014 15:53
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0603 Evolutionary Biology > 060309 Phylogeny and Comparative Analysis @ 70%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0603 Evolutionary Biology > 060302 Biogeography and Phylogeography @ 15%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0603 Evolutionary Biology > 060303 Biological Adaptation @ 15%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
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