Bruce tiffney



  I am actively working on Tertiary age fruit and seed floras from California, Maryland, Vermont, Wyoming and Africa. The largest project is that from California, where I have discovered at least 20 new localities in the Auriferous Gravels that reveal a diverse Late Eocene flora with biogeographic affinities with the living floras of southeastern North America and Asia. This research uses both light and scanning electron microscopy to establish the identify of fossil fruits and seeds through careful comparison with modern counterparts represented by herbarium specimens.


  The study of fossil fruits and seeds reveals that living genera often had a distribution in the past quite unlike that in the present. I am interested in unraveling the factors which have controlled plant distribution (paleoclimate, paleogeography, dispersal modes and paleoecology) to understand the evolution of the Tertiary and modern flora of the Northern Hemisphere.
     Recently my interests have meshed with those of colleagues involved in determining the phylogeny of living clades through the parallel application of morphological and genetic characters. The integration of such phylogenetic data with paleobiological data is the bias of the emerging field of phylogeography in which we attempt to map the phylogenetic relations of a clade on the historical sequence of its geographic spread. This is going to be both a great deal of fun, and a truly interdisciplinary undertaking.


  Plants coexist with animals, both as plant predators (herbivores) and as dispersal agents, especially of fruits and seeds. However, vertebrate herbivory in the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic involved different plants and vertebrates, creating a different overall dynamic. The importance of this dynamic has not been appreciated or explored. In exploring this question, I have also examined the interplay of angiosperm ecology and dispersal mode in the modern flora, and extrapolated the results to make predictions in the fossil record. Much of this research is focused upon detecting parallel patterns in the history of vertebrates and plants.


  20 years ago Karl Niklas (Cornell), Andrew Knoll (Harvard) published a survey of land plant diversity. The patterns that emerged from this survey led us to speculate on the evolutionary and ecological processes inherent in determining the path of land plant evolution.
     Recently, a much larger group of paleobotanists has gathered to recreate and greatly expand upon our original database, and to examine the history of the diversity of land plants in much greater detail. his project is being done under the auspices of the National Center for Ecological Synthesis and Analysis located at UCSB. I am part of this larger group, and look forward to a larger database and the insights we generate from it.



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