Elegance versus Speed: Examining the Competition between Conifer and Angiosperm Trees

Angiosperm radiation in the Cretaceous is thought to have profoundly diminished the success of the conifers, the other major woody plant group present at the time. However, today the conifers persist and often thrive despite their supposed inferiority in vegetative and reproductive function. By exploring this apparent conflict for global tree dominance, we seek here to reveal patterns that explain not only how the allegedly inferior
conifers persist among angiosperms but also why some conifer groups became extinct in the Cretaceous. We find that despite the profound contrast between the dominant conifer families in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, all conifers can be characterized by a common set of functional attributes that allow them to exist in an important group of niches, from high latitudes to the equator. In these environments, conifers are often highly efficient at outcompeting, outliving, or outsurviving angiosperms. Hence, we conclude that conifer success cannot be dismissed as being uniquely associated with habitats that are unfavorable for angiosperms.