The study co-authored by University of Florida scientists shows many angiosperms, or flowering plants, evolved mechanisms to cope with freezing temperatures as they radiated into nearly every climate during pre-historic times. Researchers found the plants likely acquired many of these adaptive traits prior to their movement into colder regions.
Study co-author Pam Soltis, a distinguished professor and curator of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics at the Florida Museum on the UF campus, said that only some plants were able to make the adjustments to survive in cold climates.
She said that in fact, some had traits used for other purposes that they co-opted for cold tolerance, asserting that the results have implications for plant response to climate change - some plant lineages, including many crops, will not have the underlying genetic attributes that will allow for rapid responses to climate change.
Early flowering plants are thought to have been woody-meaning they maintain a prominent stem above ground across years and changing weather conditions, such as a maple tree-and restricted to warm, wet, tropical environments.
But they have since put down roots in colder climates, dominating large swaths of the globe where freezing occurs. How they managed this expansion has long vexed researchers searching for plants' equivalent to the winter parka.
The study has been published in the journal Nature.