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Fossil Friday: New Study Confirms Discontinuities in the History of Plants

Photo: Fossil water lily, Lower Cretaceous of Brazil, by G. Bechly.

In several previous articles at Evolution News (Bechly 2021b,c,d,e2022a,b,c,d) I elaborated in great detail on the sudden appearance of flowering plants (angiosperms) in the Lower Cretaceous, which was famously called an “abominable mystery” by Charles Darwin himself. To illustrate these early angiosperms, this Fossil Friday features a photo of a beautifully preserved fossil water lily, Pluricarpellatia peltata (Nymphaeales), from the Lower Cretaceous limestones of the Crato Formation in Northeast Brazil, which I took at a trader collection in Germany many years ago. It was later acquired by the Natural History Museum in Berlin (Mohr et al. 2008).

Not an Easy Read

Now, a seminal new study in the journal Nature Plants by Clark et al. (2023) confirms the discontinuous pattern of appearance of biological novelty in the history of plants. Since the paper is not an easy read but deserves to be widely known, Richard Buggs (professor for botany at Queen Mary University of London) provided on Twitter (now called X) the following very helpful simplified abstract for non-specialists:

Buggs (2023) emphasized:

The paper states “The morphological distances … between angiosperms and gymnosperms… are maintained even with the inclusion of fossils”. This upholds “Darwin’s abominable mystery”: the sudden appearance of angiosperm fossils in the Cretaceous with no clear intermediates between them and gymnosperms. I made this point in another tweet and Phil Donoghue FRS, the lead author of the paper responded that this is “surely the greatest conundrum in the whole of palaeontology”.

Full of Conundrums

Well, a distinguished paleontologist like Philip Donoghue certainly should know better. The fossil record is indeed full of such conundrums, as I have extensively documented elsewhere (Bechly 2021a2023 Bechly & Meyer 2017). The ubiquitous discontinuities in the fossil record of all periods, all regions, and all groups of organisms do not just represent a conundrum (a riddle to be solved) for Darwinism. Instead, they are conflicting evidence that calls for a better explanation. New fossil evidence contradicting the predictions of Darwinism, and confirming the predictions of intelligent design, is published almost on a weekly basis. Thankfully it provides a lot of ground to cover for our Fossil Friday series.