Plant evolution

Outback palms were planted

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
483,
Page:
248
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/483248a
Published online

The Australian outback's only palm trees, thought to be living fossils of the ancient Gondwanan rainforest that covered the region 15 million years ago, may in fact be descended from transplants carried by humans.

Toshiaki Kondo at Hiroshima University and his colleagues compared DNA samples from four populations of the outback's Livistona mariae, which give their name to the Palm Valley Oasis, with those of other Australian palms. They found that the species is genetically almost identical to its northern relation, Livistona rigida — meaning that the two are not distinct species. Genetic analysis revealed that the populations started to diverge between 7,000 and 31,000 years ago, a timeline that overlaps with intermittent human migrations from northern to central Australia.

The authors suggest that Aboriginal people may have brought the palm seeds with them as a food resource or raw material.

M. CRISP/AUSTRALIAN NATL UNIV.

Proc. R. Soc. B http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.0103 (2012)

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