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Evolution of rapid blue-light response linked to explosive diversification of ferns in angiosperm forests


Cai, S and Huang, Y and Chen, F and Zhang, X and Sessa, E and Zhao, C and Blaine Marchant, D and Xue, D and Chen, G and Dai, F and Leebens-Mack, JH and Zhang, G and Shabala, S, et al., Evolution of rapid blue-light response linked to explosive diversification of ferns in angiosperm forests, New Phytologist, 230, (3) pp. 1201-1213. ISSN 0028-646X (2021) [Refereed Article]

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2020 The Authors. New Phytologist 2021 New Phytologist Foundation. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) License, ( which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.

DOI: doi:10.1111/nph.17135


  • Ferns appear in the fossil record some 200 Myr before angiosperms. However, as angiosperm-dominated forest canopies emerged in the Cretaceous period there was an explosive diversification of modern (leptosporangiate) ferns, which thrived in low, blue-enhanced light beneath angiosperm canopies. A mechanistic explanation for this transformative event in the diversification of ferns has remained elusive.
  • We used physiological assays, transcriptome analysis and evolutionary bioinformatics to investigate a potential connection between the evolution of enhanced stomatal sensitivity to blue light in modern ferns and the rise of angiosperm-dominated forests in the geological record.
  • We demonstrate that members of the largest subclade of leptosporangiate ferns, Polypodiales, have significantly faster stomatal response to blue light than more ancient fern lineages and a representative angiosperm. We link this higher sensitivity to levels of differentially expressed genes in blue-light signaling, particularly in the cryptochrome (CRY) signaling pathway. Moreover, CRYs of the Polypodiales examined show gene duplication events between 212.9196.9 and 164.4151.8 Ma, when angiosperms were emerging, which are lacking in other major clades of extant land plants.
  • These findings suggest that evolution of stomatal blue-light sensitivity helped modern ferns exploit the shady habitat beneath angiosperm forest canopies, fueling their Cretaceous hyperdiversification.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:fern, evolution, blue light, stomata, blue-light signaling, cryptochrome, fern evolution, photosynthesis
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Plant biology
Research Field:Plant cell and molecular biology
Objective Division:Plant Production and Plant Primary Products
Objective Group:Other plant production and plant primary products
Objective Field:Other plant production and plant primary products not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Shabala, S (Professor Sergey Shabala)
ID Code:147841
Year Published:2021
Web of Science® Times Cited:20
Deposited By:Agriculture and Food Systems
Deposited On:2021-11-18
Last Modified:2022-04-08
Downloads:22 View Download Statistics

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