Insect pollination before flowers evolved


This video is called A Panorpa scorpionfly from Frohnleiten, Austria.

From Science News:

Pollination in the pre-flower-power era

Scorpionflies may have aided plant reproduction long before blossoms evolved

By Sid Perkins

An obscure group of scorpionflies with specialized mouthparts may have pollinated ancient plants millions of years before flowers evolved, a new study suggests.

Fossils indicate that before flowers evolved about 130 million years ago, most plants with seeds were wind-pollinated. Yet the pollen grains of some plants that lived in the prefloral era were too big to be wind-dispersed, say Conrad Labandeira, a paleoentomologist at Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Also, he notes, pollen receptors were hidden deep within some of those plants and wouldn’t have been readily exposed to windborne pollen.

Now, in the Nov. 6 Science, Labandeira and his colleagues propose that an ancient group of scorpionflies might be counted among the missing pollinators of such plants.

The researchers analyzed 21 specimens of scorpionflies representing 11 long-extinct species, with body lengths ranging from 3 to 28 millimeters. Most of these insects were preserved in rocks laid down as fine-grained sediments, but one had been preserved in amber, says Labandeira. The fossil record suggests that these creatures were rare but present in Eurasia throughout a 62-million-year interval that began around 164 million years ago, well before flowers evolved, and stretched into the early evolution of blooms.

All of these scorpionfly specimens have long, siphon-like mouthparts capable of sucking liquids — in one case, the proboscis is about one-third the length of the insect’s body. Because pollen grains could be too large to fit through the slim siphons, the researchers suggest that the pollen stuck to ridges or hairlike structures on the creatures’ mouthparts or face as they fed on nutrient-rich fluids produced by the plants. Then, the insects carried the pollen from plant to plant as they foraged, just as modern-day pollinators do.

Labandeira and his colleagues didn’t find any pollen on or around the fossil insects they analyzed. “That was really disappointing,” Labandeira notes. But, he adds, the pollen may have decomposed or otherwise not been preserved in the sediments for any number of reasons. On the other hand, the amber that entombed one well-preserved scorpionfly didn’t contain any pollen, either — which probably reflects a true absence of pollen in that case, possibly due to entrapment of the insect at a pollen-poor time of year.

Grains of pollen preserved with such specimens would be the missing piece of evidence to definitively link these scorpionflies to the pollination of ancient plants, says Jeff Ollerton, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Northampton in England. But he’s not surprised that pollen hasn’t been found. “Evidence for species interactions rarely fossilizes,” he notes.

See also here.

How Did Flowering Plants Evolve to Dominate Earth? Here.

USA: New research on the Joshua tree and its insect pollinators: here.

Shutdown aside, Joshua trees live an odd life. In the U.S. southwest, Joshua trees evolved a rare, fussy pollination scheme. By Susan Milius, 8:00am, February 6, 2019.

November 2009. A rare species of fly that has only been found south of the border until now was recorded for the first time in Scotland this summer. Naturalists carrying out a survey of insect life at National Trust for Scotland’s Rockcliffe nature reserve near Dalbeattie on the Solway Firth have come across an unusual species of Soldier Fly – Chorisops tibialis – which is found occasionally in more Southerly areas of the UK.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 23, 2010) — The origins of flowering plants from peas to oak trees are now in clearer focus thanks to the efforts of University of Florida researchers: here.

Can Modern-Day Plants Trace Their New Zealand Ancestry? Here.

Can the morphology of fossil leaves tell us how early flowering plants grew? Here.

ScienceDaily: Plants kick-started evolutionary drama of Earth’s oxygenation: here.

One of the oldest fossil sprigs of a flowering plant has turned up in a Chinese rock formation dating from 122.6 to 125.8 million years ago. Now named Leefructus mirus, the extinct species had jagged-edged, three-lobed leaves and five-part seed structures much like the modern buttercups and their relatives: here.

4 thoughts on “Insect pollination before flowers evolved

  1. Tuebingen, Germany – German scientists have for the first time measured the rate at which the basic process of evolution – genetic mutation – naturally occurs in plants, the journal Science reported Friday. The team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biology in Tuebingen studied genetic mutation in a species of cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), and found that each gene in the plant will mutate on average once in every 143 million generations.

    This rate of genetic change was much faster than expected, and could explain how species adapt to changing surroundings quickly, and gave the example of weeds becoming resistant to specific weedkillers within just a few generations.

    The same speed of genetic change, wrote the researchers, could in theory be expected in human DNA, meaning that with six billion people on earth each form of human gene would be permanently mutating somewhere on the planet.

    “Everything that is genetically possible is therefore worked through in a very short time,” said project leader Detlef Weigel.

    http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/301721,german-scientists-discover-rate-of-evolution–in-cress.html

    See also here.

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  2. Pingback: New snow scorpionfly dicovered in Alaska | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Bumblebees and flowers, new research | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: First Cretaceous African amber deposit discovered | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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