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Paul Kenrick
Department of Palaeontology
The Natural History Museum

Research Interests

Plants have lived on land for over 450 million years. For most of this time the flora of the earth has been dominated by ferns, clubmosses, horsetails, conifers and their relatives. Research on fossil plants at NHM focuses on the evolution of these groups and on the origins of the land flora.

Long term goals include: (1) the development of detailed and accurate phylogenetic trees for clubmosses, ferns, and related extinct plant groups. These provide the fundamental conceptual framework for most comparative biology and are essential to the development of better plant classifications; (2) the documentation and description of early fossil land plants. The aim of this is to improve our understanding of the origins and early development of the first terrestrial ecosystems. (3) In the long term, I would like to see an integration of palaeontological approaches and new molecular methods to elucidate the evolution and development of plant form.

1. Phylogeny and evolution of pteridophytes (ferns, clubmosses, horsetails, related fossil plants). The aim of this project is to create the first detailed family tree of ferns and related plants. We are using new gene sequencing technology for living species and combining this with evidence from fossils. Results will contribute to an ongoing international effort to produce a detailed phylogenetic tree of plants. This research will lead to more accurate and comprehensive classifications. It will also enable us to address important evolutionary questions. These include dating the origins of modern species diversity and investigating the evolution of important ecological traits.

2. The origin and early diversification of plants on land. Until comparatively recently, our knowledge of the earliest land floras has been based mainly on data from the Devonian and Silurian rocks of Europe and North America. The aim of this project is to compare the evolutionary patterns observed in this Euramerican region with newly documented floras from elsewhere, in particular SE Asia. Results will provide a better understanding of early land floras at a global level, contribute to knowledge of the origin and evolution of major organ and tissue systems, and lead to a more accurate and comprehensive phylogenetic tree of plants.

3. Cretaceous Flora of Korea The Cretaceous Period (142-65 million years) was a time of major biological change that strongly influenced the evolution of modern plants and animals. The aim of this project is to collect new data on Cretaceous fossil plants from S Korea. These data will be used to document the Cretaceous flora of Korea - currently very poorly understood - and to provide new information on the early evolution of important plant groups (i.e., ferns, conifers, flowering plants). New data will be used to investigate the early development of the modern flora of south-eastern Asia and to test and refine current ideas on the late Mesozoic climate and geology of the region.