Green seaweeds determined evolution of marine animals


Researchers from Ghent University (UGent) and the Meise Botanic Garden place the origin and early evolution of green seaweeds at 650 to 750 million years ago. They discovered that they played a crucial role in the development of complex marine ecosystems and, quite possibly, in the early evolution of animals.

Green algae came about more than 1 billion years ago. At some stage, they diverged into land plants on the one hand and a great diversity of green algae on the other, including the green seaweeds. For a long time, the evolutionary relationships between both groups remained unclear until a comparison of the genes from a large number of green seaweeds, in combination with data from fossils, threw new light on this evolution and provided clarity.


Various groups of green algae evolved separately from one another over millions of years of isolation during extreme climate conditions. When temperatures rose following the severe ice ages and suitable habitats on the sea floor became available, the green seaweeds began to spread out and diversify. This in turn led to significant changes in shallow marine ecosystems, which quite possibly had a substantial influence on the evolution of marine animals.


The research results have been published in the prestigious journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).