Science

Trapped beetle unlocks the secret of pollination

Trapped beetle unlocks the secret of pollination

Because locked in the amber with it was evidence of how insects helped with pollination long before the arrival of flowering plants.

The researchers also conducted an extensive phylogenetic analysis to explore the beetle's family tree.

"Boganiid beetles have been ancient pollinators for cycads since the Age of Cycads and Dinosaurs", says Chenyang Cai, now a research fellow at the University of Bristol.

When Dr Cai first saw the fossil he was immediately intrigued and recognised its bristly cavities might suggest the beetle was a pollinator of cycads.

Early pollinators are severely lacking in the fossils record, which is why this exquisite beetle trapped in Burmese amber is so important to science. He's been looking for them for the last five years.

"It is remarkable several aggregations of exquisitely preserved pollen grains are located along the left side of the fossil beetle and with two pollen grains close to the head", said Dr. Cai in comments obtained by the Daily Mail.

Cycads are a group of "unusual evergreen gymnosperms" dating back to the Mesozoic Era, which stretches between 252 million and 66 million years ago and is divided into the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods.




The beetles were so involved with cycads that they evolved special adaptations like mandibular patches that transport pollen.

Nearly 100 million years ago, a beetle had a bad day, became caught in some tree resin and was asphyxiated.

Insect-mediated pollination in gymnosperms and potentially prior to the rise of flowering plants is critical for understanding not only the complex biology of these plants today but also the ecology of pre-angiospermous ecosystems and the history of pollination specializations on gymnosperms.

Cai analyzed the boganiid beetle and with the aid of a microscope noticed the specimen carried clumps of pollen grains which were confirmed to belong to a cycad.

Beetles commonly pollinate cycads in South Africa and Australia - supporting an ancient origin of the relationship, say the researchers.

The pollinating relationship between bees and butterflies with flowers is well-documented.

Cai notes that the findings together with the distribution of modern boganiid beetles lead him to suspect that similar beetle pollinators of cycads are yet to be found. These pollens point out to the existence of the earlier insect-pollinated plant species.