Jurassic arthropod-plant interactions from the Australian fossil record

Feb 24, 2014 by Geoff Vivian
At the beggining of the Jurassic era beetles, grasshoppers and bugs were munching away at the other plants in the supercontinent Gondwanaland. Credit: ron_n_beth

An international team has analysed Jurassic arthropod-plant interactions from the Australian fossil record.

Fossilised plants were inspected for insect 'bite marks' to determine insect-plant relationships during the Jurassic era.

"We've given ourselves a really good insight," paleo-entomologist Sarah Martin says.

"It's really a very important relationship between plants and arthropods at quite a key time in the evolution of both groups.

"Insects were becoming very modern in the Jurassic and into the Cretaceous.

"The Jurassic plants were becoming very modern which is just before the start of the angiosperms [flowering plants], so there were some interesting things going on in both groups.

"It shows us that there was quite a high diversity in feeding strategies in arthropods at the time and the plants themselves had quite a number of strategies to deal with that.

"It's not surprising because it's a very long relationship; arthropods have been relating with plants probably since the Carboniferous and probably earlier."

At the beginning of the Jurassic era (about 206-144 million years ago) Australia was the north-eastern part of the supercontinent Gondwanaland.

Angiosperms were yet to develop, but beetles, grasshoppers and bugs were munching away at the other plants in the continent's warm ecosystem.

As part of her PhD research, Dr Martin collected and described both fossilised insects and their leaf impressions from the Cattamarra Coal Measures, near Jurien in WA's Mid West, which were also used in the current study.

"They are certainly the only body of Jurassic insects in WA, and very likely the only terrestrial arthropods," she says.

She says arthropods other than insects were almost certainly present.

"All those groups probably, even likely, had interactions with the plants but we don't have body fossils so we can't really say if they were there.

She says trace fossils provide data beyond the body record.

"If the particular traces are really iconic or obviously belong to a group then that might tell you that the group was there even if you don't see them directly in the fossil record."

Lead author Steve McLouglin, who is a Stockholm-based palaeontologist, photographed these and specimens from other Jurassic plant fossil collections before describing the damage inflicted on them.

The study relied on existing museum collections, so there was no attempt to quantify proportions of trace fossils per species.

"The study is a first look into something that we have haven't really understood very well before in Australia," Dr Martin says.

Explore further: First African study on biodiversity in genetically modified maize finds insects abundant

More information: Stephen McLoughlin, Sarah K. Martin, Robert Beattie, "The record of Australian Jurassic plant–arthropod interactions," Gondwana Research, Available online 16 December 2013, ISSN 1342-937X, DOI: 10.1016/j.gr.2013.11.009.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Earliest record of copulating insects discovered

Nov 06, 2013

Scientists have found the oldest fossil depicting copulating insects in northeastern China, published November 6th in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Dong Ren and colleagues at the Capital Normal Univer ...

Jurassic insect that mimicked ginkgo leaves discovered

Nov 28, 2012

(Phys.org)—Researchers working in China have discovered an insect that lived 165 million years ago that they believe used its wings to mimic the leaves of an ancient ginkgo tree. The fossil finding, the ...

'Neighbor-plants' determine insects' feeding choices

Feb 14, 2014

Insects are choosier than you might think: whether or not they end up feeding on a particular plant depends on much more than just the species to which that plant belongs. The quality of the individual plant ...

Recommended for you

New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

Sep 19, 2014

Call it the Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs – a newly discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile. The new dinosaur, named Rhinorex condrupus by paleontologists from North Carolina State Univer ...

Militants threaten ancient sites in Iraq, Syria

Sep 19, 2014

For more than 5,000 years, numerous civilizations have left their mark on upper Mesopotamia—from Assyrians and Akkadians to Babylonians and Romans. Their ancient, buried cities, palaces and temples packed ...

User comments : 0