The oldest ever record of insect pollination has been found in amber deposits that are 110-105 million years old.
Several species of insects covered in pollen were found in two pieces of amber, becoming the oldest ever record of the pollen transporting relationship between flowering plants and insects.
More than 80% of modern plant species depend on insects to transport pollen from the male to the female plant parts. While flowering plants are the most well known pollinated plants, pollen also exists in other species, such as conifers.
The new discovery was made in amber deposits located in Northern Spain, in the Basque country. Many new species of plants and animals had previously been discovered in these deposits.
Two pieces of amber containing thysanopterans, commonly called thrips, were uncovered with the insects covered in hundreds of pieces of pollen.
Extant thrips are known as effective pollinators for a variety of modern plant species. And the pollen in question appears to be specialized for pickup by insects, likely from a Gingko tree.
“This is the oldest direct evidence for pollination, and the only one from the age of the dinosaurs. The co-evolution of flowering plants and insects, thanks to pollination, is a great evolutionary success story. It began about 100 million years ago, when this piece of amber fossil was produced by resin dropping from a tree, which today is the oldest fossil record of pollinating insects. Thrips might indeed turn out to be one of the first pollinator groups in geological history, long before evolution turned some of them into flower pollinators,” concludes Carmen Soriano, who led the investigation of the amber pieces with X-ray tomography at the ESRF.
The new discovery was just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.