Pollen in the guts of Permian insects: first evidence of pollinivory and its evolutionary significance



Uniquely preserved pollen was extracted from intestines of fossil insects from the Lower Permian of the Urals. A species of Hypoperlidae, an extinct family ancestral to bark-lice, bugs and plant-hoppers, and two species of Grylloblatida, a predominantly Permian group with a few extant representatives related to stoneflies, contain protosaccate taeniate grains of several pollen genera well known as dispersed microfossils and occasionally found in sporangia of conifers, peltasperms and glossopterids. This is so far the earliest direct evidence of pollinivory, a major factor of plant-insect coevolution. The partly digested pollen grains reveal infratectal reticulum and other structural details of evolutionary significance. It is suggested that the peculiar taeniate pollen of worldwide distribution in the Permian might simultaneously evolve in several groups of Paleozoic seed plants in relation to pollinivory that, by altering the rnicropyle load and thereby the pollen/ovule ratio, could also affect ovuliferous structures. Thus pollinivory might impel rapid diversification of gymnosperms in the Permian. The pollinivorous Hypoperlidae, which have evolved in the direction of ovulivory, might initiate insect pollination in the process.