The explosion in the number of flowering plant (angiosperm) species during the Cretaceous is credited with causing a dramatic decline in other vascular plant groups such as horsetails, cycads, and ferns. But new research published this week in Nature suggests that fern diversity underwent a renaissance following the rise of angiosperms and that the appearance of angiosperm forests triggered this revitalization.

“Paleobotanists had hinted at this possibility,” said Kathleen Pryer of the Department of Biology at Duke University, who led the study. “But it's very hard to prove it just with the fossil record.”

In an accompanying News and Views article Torsten Eriksson, from the Bergius Foundation, argued that the findings call into question the concept of evolutionary “cul-de-sacs,” a term applied to lineages that remain unchanged over long periods of evolutionary time.

“People have been saying 'Well, these guys have been around for so long and they [still]...

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