Evolution and biogeography of seagrasses

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Seagrasses of Australia: Structure, Ecology and Conservation, 2018, pp. 3 - 29
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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018. Seagrasses are an organismal biological group united by their ability to grow in marine environments. As marine flowering plants they have evolved a combined suite of adaptations multiple times enabling the four known lineages containing species of seagrass to survive, and thrive, in the sea. Unlike many other biological groups of plants however, seagrasses are all derived from a single order of flowering plants, the Alismatales. This order, being derived early in the evolution of the monocotyledons, is comprised predominantly of aquatic plants, of all forms- emergent, submerged, freshwater, estuarine and marine. A review of seagrass fossils suggests that new discoveries of seagrass fossils along with confirmation of some earlier finds lead to a clear signal that some seagrass species had a wider distribution in the past compared with today. The discovery of new fossil sites should be encouraged as this will likely produce important valuable information on the evolution of this group. In general the biogeography of seagrasses suggests that these organisms evolved successfully in the Tethys Sea of the Late Cretaceous. However, the modern division into two groups, temperate and tropical tends to suggest that at some point an ecological separation occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. There are a disproportionately large number of temperate seagrass species in southern Australia and there is significant endemism shown in Posidonia, Amphibolis and a unique species of Halophila (H. australis). The use of genetic and genomic techniques has begun to explain these distributions but we can expect a much bigger picture to emerge in the near future.
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