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Angiosperm pollinivory in a Cretaceous beetle

Abstract

Despite the crucial importance of flower-visiting insects in modern ecosystems, there is little fossil evidence on the origins of angiosperm pollination. Most reports of pollination in the Mesozoic fossil record have been based on the co-occurrence of the purported pollinators with pollen grains and assumed morphological adaptations for vectoring pollen. Here, we describe an exceptionally preserved short-winged flower beetle (Cucujoidea: Kateretidae) from mid-Cretaceous amber, Pelretes vivificus gen. et sp. nov., associated with pollen aggregations and coprolites consisting mainly of pollen, providing direct evidence of pollen-feeding in a Cretaceous beetle and confirming that diverse beetle lineages visited early angiosperms in the Cretaceous. The exquisite preservation of our fossil permits the identification of the pollen grains as Tricolpopollenites (Asteridae or Rosidae), representing a record of flower beetle pollination of a group of derived angiosperms in the Mesozoic and suggesting that potentially diverse beetle lineages visited early angiosperms by the mid-Cretaceous.

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Fig. 1: Photomicrographs of P. vivificus from mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber.
Fig. 2: Photomicrographs of Tricolpopollenites pollen and pollen-laden coprolites associated with P. vivificus.
Fig. 3: Ecological reconstruction of P. vivificus in the Burmese amber forest (~98.17 Ma).

Data availability

The fossils reported in this study are part of the publicly accessible collections of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Supplementary videos are available from MendeleyData: https://doi.org/10.17632/jdn7kvd4bd.1.

Each amber piece in the collection of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology has an informal field number (not identical to the accession number provided when published and deposited permanently), indicating when the specimen was collected and by whom. On the basis of the present specimen’s field number (HUANG-HP-B-7567), its purchase can be traced to Prof. Chenyang Cai and Prof. Diying Huang, who acquired it in late 2016 from a Myanmar amber dealer whose family has been working in the amber business for many years. The local amber dealer and his workers mined the raw amber material (not cut, shaped or polished) legally with an excavation permit from a hill named Noije Bum (26° 15′ 0.00″ N, 96° 33′ 0.00″ E), near Tanai Township (26° 21′ 33.41″ N, 96° 43′ 11.88″ E). It was transported to Myitkyina for further processing such as trimming, shaping and polishing. From there, jewellery-grade specimens (in our case, the amber piece was sold as a small, light yellow and transparent pendant) were carried and sold legally in Ruili county in Dehong Prefecture at the border of China and Myanmar. We can confirm that the amber was mined in late 2016, long before the local armed conflict in the mining area.

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Acknowledgements

C.C. was funded by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant nos. XDB26000000 and XDB18000000) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 42072022). D.H. was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant nos. 41925008 and 41688103) and the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research project (grant no. 2019QZKK0706).

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E.T. and C.C. conceived and designed the study. E.T. drafted the manuscript, with contributions from C.C. and D.H. L.L. identified the pollen grains and discussed their importance. Y.F. and Y.S. prepared the photographs and participated in the morphological studies. All authors participated in the finalization and review of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Chenyang Cai.

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Tihelka, E., Li, L., Fu, Y. et al. Angiosperm pollinivory in a Cretaceous beetle. Nat. Plants 7, 445–451 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-021-00893-2

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