The Paleontological Society Papers
Mathematical models of fluid flow thorough plant stems permit quantitative assessment of plant ecology using anatomy alone, allowing extinct and extant plants to be measured against one another. Through this process, a series of patterns and observations about plant ecology and evolution can be made. First, many plants evolved high rates of water transport through the evolution of a diverse suite of anatomical adaptations over the last four hundred million years. Second, adaptations to increase hydraulic supply to leaves tend to precede, in evolutionary time, adaptations to increase the safety margin of plant water transport. Third, anatomical breakthroughs in water transport function tend to occur in step with ecological breakthroughs, including the appearance of leaves during the Devonian, the evolution of high leaf areas in early seed plants during the Carboniferous, and the early radiation of flowering plants during the Cretaceous. Quantitative assessment of plant function not only opens up the plant fossil record to ecological comparison, but also provides data that can be used to model fluxes and dynamics of past ecosystems that are rooted in individual plant anatomy.
Wilson, J. P., 2013, Modeling 400 million years of plant hydraulics: The Paleontological Society Papers, v. 19, p. 175-194.