by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Jun 22, 2017
The iconic New Zealand Christmas tree is known for its bright red flowers and ability to grow among rocky outcroppings along ridges and cliffs. Newly discovered fossils suggest the evolutionary origins of the tree and its relatives lie in Australia.
The evergreen species, Metrosideros excelsa, also known as the iron tree, is most associated with New Zealand, but it is found throughout the Pacific.
"It grows in Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Tahiti, the Bonin Islands near Japan, on sub-Antarctic islands, and many other islands in between, as well as having single representatives in Africa and South America," Myall Tarran, a doctoral candidate in the University of Adelaide's School of Biological Sciences, said in a news release.
Surprisingly, the tree isn't found in Australia.
The tree's seeds are light but hardy, able to be carried by gentle winds while surviving freezing temperatures and prolonged exposure to salt water.
"This makes it hard to pin down where the genus might have originated," Tarran said. "Metrosideros seems to have achieved most of its present distribution relatively recently through dispersal."
Scientists have previously uncovered Metrosideros fossils in Australia -- proof that the iron tree relatives once grew in Australia but went extinct. The newest fossils suggest several Metrosideros species once grew in Australia.
The newly discovered species belong to a different subgenus than that of the New Zealand Christmas tree. Researchers say seeds from this subgenus weren't as easily dispersed, which suggests the genus may have originated in Australia.
"These species may not have been as well adapted for long-distance dispersal as those other species, and so it is likely that they originated here," said Tarran.
The findings -- detailed in the American Journal of Botany -- suggest the Metrosideros genus diversified on Australia before traveling throughout the Pacific islands.
"The question still remains as to why they became extinct in Australia," Tarran said.
Warsaw (AFP) June 21, 2017
Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko, whom green activists have criticised for allowing large-scale logging in the ancient Bialowieza forest, on Wednesday called for the vast woodland to be stripped of UNESCO's natural heritage status, which bans any human intervention. Bialowieza, straddling Poland's eastern border with Belarus, includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval ... read more
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