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Scientists discover how plants evolved to cope with winter

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Plants had evolved mechanisms to cope with cold weather and potential freezing long before many plants on Earth actually felt the effects of cold weather according to new research presented by Jeremy Beaulieu at the National Institute for Mathematical & Biological Synthesis at the University of Tennessee and Amy Zanne of the George Washington University in the Dec. 22, 2013, issue of the journal Nature.

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Plants developed three basic methods to cope with cold and the deadly effects of freezing. Some plants drop leaves to reduce the flow of water in the plant in winter. Some plants developed smaller water transport cells that minimize the potential for forming ice. Some plants evolved to die back to the root to avoid the effects of cold.

The scientists found that all plants had evolved a mechanism for coping with cold weather and the potential for freezing long before any extreme cold weather events occurred on Earth except those plants that drop their leaves when the temperature gets cold. The researchers propose that drought could have been the factor that produced this adaptation in plants and trees.

The researchers constructed the largest time-scaled evolutionary tree of plants ever devised to develop their conclusions. The data base of over 32,000 ancient, extinct, and living trees and plants permitted this discovery in plant evolution and is expected to yield more unique finds.

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