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Atmospheric oxygen as a driver of plant evolution over the past 400 million years

Final Report Summary - OXYEVOL (Atmospheric oxygen as a driver of plant evolution over the past 400 million years)

OXYEVOL tested the hypothesis that atmospheric O2 and CO2 were important drivers of plant vegetative and reproductive adaptation/innovation and strongly influenced major patterns in plant evolution and ecology over the past 450 million years. The OXYEVOL project has successfully tested this hypothesis with a series of highly novel simulated palaeo-atmosphere experiments using extant plants sampled across the living plant phylogeny (Porter et al., 2015; Bacon et al. 2016; Elliott-Kingston et al. 2016; Evans-FitzGerald et al., 2016; Yiotis et al. 2017) and through improved understanding of atmospheric evolution over the past 450 million years through the development of new fossil plant based atmospheric proxies (McElwain et al., 2016; McElwain and Steinthorsdottir, 2017; Montanez, McElwain et al. 2016) and through the improvement of existing proxy methods (Porter et al. 2017 ; McElwain et al. 2016; 2017). OXYEVOL research has demonstrated convincingly through experimentation (Porter et al. 2015; Yiotis et al. 2017; Evans-Fitzgerald et al 2017), ecophysiological modelling (Yiotis et al. in prep) and palaebotanical investigation (Montanez, McElwain et al., 2016) that shifts in atmospheric composition, particularly the O2:CO2 ratio have dramatically influenced the vegetation history of planet Earth. We have convincingly demonstrated that the ratio of O2:CO2 differentially impact the ecophysiological function of plant evolutionary groups (Porter, 2017; Porter et al. 2017 ; Yiotis et al. 2017; Evans-Fitzgerald, 2017; Evans-Fitzgerald et al 2017) and that shifts in atmospheric composition has therefore acted as a strong selective force in plant evolution through Earth history (Willis and McElwain, 2015). The success of the OXYEVOL project is reflected by two successfully defended PhD theses, 28 peer reviewed publications in international/ high impact publications (including Nature Geoscience and New Phytologist), 20 awards, 79 dissemination activities and one undergraduate textbook (Willis and McElwain 2013, Evolution of Plants, Oxford University Press).