Image: Indiana Univ. Every Thursday, Laboratory Equipment features a Scientist of the Week, chosen from the science industry’s latest headlines. This week’s scientist is David Dilcher from Indiana Univ. He and a team solved Darwin’s abominable mystery — the apparently sudden appearance and rapid spread of flowering plants in the fossil record.

Q: What made you interested in studying the apparently sudden appearance and rapid spread of flowering plants in the fossil record?

A: During the past 30 years I have been searching in the fossil record for the earliest and very early flowering plants in order to find some answers to  carefully documented history (when do we find their early occurrences and when and what is their early diversity)  and what is the nature of their reproductive biology. 

Q: What are the future implications of your research and findings?      

A: I think that I and my co-authors hope to understand the ecology of the early flowering plants, and I think we should be able to document the earliest records of the occurrence of some extinct and extant major taxa.

Q: What was the most surprising thing you found in your research? 

A: That flowering plants, as we know them today, did not evolve at one time.  They are products of many steps of evolution and co-evolution through about 70 to 80 million years.

Q: What is the take home message of your research and results? 

A: At this stage of our understanding and published research we see the need to recognize extinct flowering plant families, the need to think that the evolution of flowers was not an all at once  thing, but happened in stages and we open up the question about role the ecology, biotic and abiotic, played in their evolution.

Q: What new technologies did you use in your lab during your research?   

A: We collected a large data set in order to look for patterns. We had access to some very special and unique collections of fossil plants. 

Q: What is next for you and your research? 

A: There are still some very special and unique fossils that we need to complete work on which will give us new data again to consider the early evolution of the flowering plants.