Stomata are pores that regulate plant gas exchange . They evolved more than 400 million years ago [2, 3], but the origin of their active physiological responses to endogenous and environmental cues is unclear [2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. Recent research suggests that the stomata of lycophytes and ferns lack pore closure responses to abscisic acid (ABA) and CO2. This evidence led to the hypothesis that a fundamental transition from passive to active control of plant water balance occurred after the divergence of ferns 360 million years ago [7, 8]. Here we show that stomatal responses of the lycophyte Selaginella  to ABA and CO2 are directly comparable to those of the flowering plant Arabidopsis . Furthermore, we show that the underlying intracellular signaling pathways responsible for stomatal aperture control are similar in both basal and modern vascular plant lineages. Our evidence challenges the hypothesis that acquisition of active stomatal control of plant carbon and water balance represents a critical turning point in land plant evolution [7, 8]. Instead, we suggest that the critical evolutionary development is represented by the innovation of stomata themselves and that physiologically active stomatal control originated at least as far back as the emergence of the lycophytes (circa 420 million years ago) .
► Active stomatal responses to CO2 and ABA are evolutionarily ancient
► Active stomatal responses to CO2 and ABA are present in Selaginella
► Stomata are a key evolutionary innovation vital to the success of the land plants