Unusual Fossil Discovered That Reveals Last Meal of a Prehistoric Pollinator

Pelretes Vivificus Vesting Angiosperm Flowers

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Ecological restoration of Pelretes vivificus vesting angiosperm flowers in the Burmese amber forest (~99 Ma). Credit: Artwork by Mr. Jie Sun

An amber fossil of a Cretaceous beetle has actually shed some light on the diet plan of among the earliest pollinators of blooming plants.

The animal’s remains were uncovered by scientists at the University of Bristol and the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NIGPAS) who had the ability to study its fossil feces, which was made up entirely of pollen.

Besides being a visitor of angiosperms — blooming plants — scientists now have definitive proof that the brand-new fossil called Pelretes vivificus likewise eaten their pollen. Details of this discovery have actually been released today in Nature Plants.

“The beetle is associated with clusters of pollen grains, suggesting that short-winged flower beetles visited angiosperms in the Cretaceous. Some aspects of the beetle’s anatomy, such as its hairy abdomen, are also adaptations associated with pollination,” stated Professor Chenyang Cai, paleontologist from the School of Earth Sciences and NIGPAS.

Aggregations of Eudicot Pollen and Pollen-Containing Coprolites

Aggregations of eudicot pollen and pollen-containing coprolites related to Pelretes vivificus. a, Amber piece with P. vivificus, revealing coprolites and one pollen aggregation. b-e, information of pollen under noticeable light (d) and confocal laser scanning microscopy (b, c, e). Scale bars: 1 mm (a), 50 μm in (b, e), 100 μm (c, d). Credit: Chenyang Cai, Yanzhe Fu and Yitong Su

Erik Tihelka, entomologist and paleontologist at the School of Earth Sciences, included: “The fossil is associated with beetle coprolites — fossil fecal pellets — that provide a very unusual but important insight into the diet of short-winged flower beetles in the Cretaceous. The fossil fecal pellets are completely composed of pollen, the same type that is found in clusters surrounding the beetle and attached to its body. We thus know that Pelretes visited angiosperms to feed on their pollen. This finding provides a direct link between early flowering plants in the Cretaceous and their insect visitors; it shows that these insect fossils were not just incidentally co-preserved with pollen, but that there was a genuine biological association between the two.”

While pollinators such as bees and butterflies supply essential environment services today, little is understood about the origin of the intimate association in between blooming plants and pests.

Dorsal View of Pelretes vivificus

Dorsal view of Pelretes vivificus, a Cretaceous short-winged flower beetle (Kateretidae) from Burmese amber (~99 Ma). Scale bar: 200 μm. Credit: Chenyang Cai, Yanzhe Fu and Yitong Su

Cretaceous amber fossils supply an essential source of proof for comprehending the biology of early angiosperms, prior to they ended up being the dominant group of plants on Earth. Amber is the fossil resin of ancient trees that frequently fortunately caught pests and other little organisms, protecting them with life-like fidelity.

“Farmers who want to protect their orchards can set up sticky traps on trees to monitor insects. Now imagine if your only insight into an ancient ecosystem were such sticky traps and you were to reconstruct all its ecological interactions based solely on this source of evidence. That is the challenge faced by paleontologists studying amber,” describes Tihelka. “Luckily, the amber trap from northern Myanmar is one of the riches fossiliferous amber deposits known. Besides the unparalleled abundance of fossil insects, the amber dates back to the mid-Cretaceous, right when angiosperms were taking off,” stated Mr. Tihelka.

Two hundred million years ago the world was as green as today, thick with thick plant life. But it was not as vibrant — there were no flowers. Flowering plants that comprise over 80% of all plant types today, just started to diversify in the Cretaceous, about 125 million years earlier. Some researchers have actually associated the substantial evolutionary success of angiosperms to their mutualistic relationships with insect pollinators, however fossil proof of Cretaceous pollinators has actually up until now been limited.

The flower beetle Pelretes vivificus resided in the Burmese amber rain forest some 98 million years earlier. Its closest loved ones are short-winged flower beetles (Kateretidae) that today happen in Australia, going to a varied variety of flowers and eating their pollen.

“The pollen associated with the beetle can be assigned to the fossil genus Tricolpopollenites. This group is attributed to the eudicots, a living group of angiosperms, that includes the orders Malpighiales and Ericales,” describes Dr. Liqin Li, fossil pollen expert from NIGPAS who added to the research study.

This reveals that pollinators made the most of early angiosperms right after their preliminary diversity and by the mid-Cretaceous checked out a varied variety of groups.

Reference: “Angiosperm pollinivory in a Cretaceous beetle” by Erik Tihelka, Liqin Li, Yanzhe Fu, Yitong Su, Diying Huang and Chenyang Cai, 12 April 2021, Nature Plants.
DOI: 10.1038/s41477-021-00893-2