Peter Crane: We can say a certain amount about plant evolution by studying living plants. But if we really want to calibrate the tempo of evolution, we need to test our theories based on direct evidence from the past.
That’s Sir Peter Crane at the University of Chicago. As a paleobotanist, he studies the deep connections between fossilized and living plants.
Peter Crane: Most recently, we’ve been working on a small flower about 120 million years old. We can actually look inside it and see how the seeds are born and other details of internal structure. And they basically corroborate the idea that this thing is close to a modern water lily.
Crane said water lilies and their ancestors have been adapting to changes on Earth since the dinosaurs roamed, over a hundred million years ago. But he said today, many water lily species are endangered due to climate change and other human activity.
Peter Crane: We are blips in the grand scheme of biological evolution on this planet. And we’re having an influence on a whole range of organisms of huge diversity that’s accumulated over tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of years. And it ought to give us pause for thought, and it ought to put present day circumstances into a broader context.
Our thanks to:
Sir Peter Crane
University of Chicago
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.