SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Endopterygota

159

Many insects with long-proboscid mouthparts are among the pollinators of seed plants. Several cases of the long-proboscid pollination mode are known between fossil insects (e.g., true flies, scorpionflies, and lacewings) and various extinct gymnosperm lineages, beginning in the Early Permian and increasing during the Middle Jurassic to Early Cretaceous. However, details on the morphology of lacewing proboscides and the relevant pollination habit are largely lacking. Here we report on three lacewing species that belong to two new genera and a described genus from mid-Cretaceous (Albian-Cenomanian) amber of Myanmar. All these species possess relatively long proboscides, which are considered to be modified from maxillary and labial elements, probably functioning as a temporary siphon for feeding on nectar. Remarkably, these proboscides range from 0.4-1.0 mm in length and are attributed to the most diminutive ones among the contemporary long-proboscid insect pollinators. Further, they clearly differ from other long-proboscid lacewings which have a much longer siphon. The phylogenetic analysis indicates that these Burmese long-proboscid lacewings belong to the superfamily Psychopsoidea but cannot be placed into any known family. The present findings represent the first description of the mouthparts of long-proboscid lacewings preserved in amber and highlight the evolutionary diversification of the ancient plant-pollinator interactions.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Insect, Plant, Seed, Cretaceous, Insects, Endopterygota

144

Coleoptera (beetles) is a massively successful order of insects, distinguished by their evolutionarily modified forewings called elytra. These structures are often presumed to have been a major driving force for the successful radiation of this taxon, by providing beetles with protection against a variety of harsh environmental factors. However, few studies have directly demonstrated the functional significance of the elytra against diverse environmental challenges. Here, we sought to empirically test the function of the elytra using Tribolium castaneum (the red flour beetle) as a model. We tested four categories of stress on the beetles: physical damage to hindwings, predation, desiccation, and cold shock. We found that, in all categories, the presence of elytra conferred a significant advantage compared to those beetles with their elytra experimentally removed. This work provides compelling quantitative evidence supporting the importance of beetle forewings in tolerating a variety of environmental stresses, and gives insight into how the evolution of elytra have facilitated the remarkable success of beetle radiation.

Concepts: Insect, Fungus, Beetle, Ground beetle, Insects, Tenebrionidae, Elytron, Endopterygota

23

The evolution of powered flight is a major innovation that has facilitated the success of insects. Previously, studies of birds, bats, and insects have detected molecular signatures of differing selection regimes in energy-related genes associated with flight evolution and/or loss. Here, using DNA sequences from more than 1000 nuclear and mitochondrial protein-coding genes obtained from insect transcriptomes, we conduct a broader exploration of which gene categories display positive and relaxed selection at the origin of flight as well as with multiple independent losses of flight. We detected a number of categories of nuclear genes more often under positive selection in the lineage leading to the winged insects (Pterygota), related to catabolic processes such as proteases, as well as splicing-related genes. Flight loss was associated with relaxed selection signatures in splicing genes, mirroring the results for flight evolution. Similar to previous studies of flight loss in various animal taxa, we observed consistently higher nonsynonymous-to-synonymous substitution ratios in mitochondrial genes of flightless lineages, indicative of relaxed selection in energy-related genes. While oxidative phosphorylation genes were not detected as being under selection with the origin of flight specifically, they were most often detected as being under positive selection in holometabolous (complete metamorphosis) insects as compared with other insect lineages. This study supports some convergence in gene-specific selection pressures associated with flight ability, and the exploratory analysis provided some new insights into gene categories potentially associated with the gain and loss of flight in insects.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Metabolism, Insect, Bat, Hymenoptera, Flying and gliding animals, Endopterygota

18

Unlike passive rupture of the human chorioamnion at birth, the insect extraembryonic (EE) tissues -the amnion and serosa -actively rupture and withdraw in late embryogenesis. Withdrawal is essential for development and has been a morphogenetic puzzle. Here, we use new fluorescent transgenic lines in the beetle Tribolium castaneum to show that the EE tissues dynamically form a basal-basal epithelial bilayer, contradicting the previous hypothesis of EE intercalation. We find that the EE tissues repeatedly detach and reattach throughout development and have distinct roles. Quantitative live imaging analyses show that the amnion initiates EE rupture in a specialized anterior-ventral cap. RNAi phenotypes demonstrate that the serosa contracts autonomously. Thus, apposition in a bilayer enables the amnion as ‘initiator’ to coordinate with the serosa as ‘driver’ to achieve withdrawal. This EE strategy may reflect evolutionary changes within the holometabolous insects and serves as a model to study interactions between developing epithelia.

Concepts: Scientific method, Evolution, Insect, Developmental biology, Tissues, Endoderm, Morphogenesis, Endopterygota

14

The evolution of flight is a key innovation that may enable the extreme diversification of insects. Nonetheless, many species-rich, winged insect groups contain flightless lineages. The loss of flight may promote allopatric differentiation due to limited dispersal power and may result in a high speciation rate in the flightless lineage. Here we show that loss of flight accelerates allopatric speciation using carrion beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae). We demonstrate that flightless species retain higher genetic differentiation among populations and comprise a higher number of genetically distinct lineages than flight-capable species, and that the speciation rate with the flightless state is twice that with the flight-capable state. Moreover, a meta-analysis of 51 beetle species from 15 families reveals higher genetic differentiation among populations in flightless compared with flight-capable species. In beetles, which represent almost one-fourth of all described species, repeated evolution of flightlessness may have contributed to their steady diversification since the Mesozoic era.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Insect, Beetle, Speciation, Insects, Pterygota, Endopterygota

11

The smallest known beetle Scydosella musawasensis Hall is recorded for the second time. Precise measurements of its body size are given, and it is shown that the smallest examined representative of this species has a length of 325 µm.

Concepts: Insect, Space, Beetle, Beetles, Endopterygota, Weevil

8

Fleas are one of the major lineages of ectoparasitic insects and are now highly specialized for feeding on the blood of birds or mammals. This has isolated them among holometabolan insect orders, although they derive from the Antliophora (scorpionflies and true flies). Like most ectoparasitic lineages, their fossil record is meagre and confined to Cenozoic-era representatives of modern families, so that we lack evidence of the origins of fleas in the Mesozoic era. The origins of the first recognized Cretaceous stem-group flea, Tarwinia, remains highly controversial. Here we report fossils of the oldest definitive fleas–giant forms from the Middle Jurassic and Early Cretaceous periods of China. They exhibit many defining features of fleas but retain primitive traits such as non-jumping hindlegs. More importantly, all have stout and elongate sucking siphons for piercing the hides of their hosts, implying that these fleas may be rooted among the pollinating ‘long siphonate’ scorpionflies of the Mesozoic. Their special morphology suggests that their earliest hosts were hairy or feathered ‘reptilians’, and that they radiated to mammalian and bird hosts later in the Cenozoic.

Concepts: Insect, Reptile, Cretaceous, Dinosaur, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Endopterygota, Mesozoic, Jurassic

7

Oxytocin and vasopressin mediate a range of physiological functions that are important for osmoregulation, reproduction, social behaviour, memory and learning. The origin of this signalling system is thought to date back ~600 million years. Oxytocin/vasopressin-like peptides have been identified in several invertebrate species and they appear to be functionally related across the entire animal kingdom. There is little information available about the biology of this peptide G protein-coupled receptor signalling system in insects. Recently over 200 insect genome/transcriptome datasets were released allowing investigation of the molecular structure and phylogenetic distribution of the insect oxytocin/vasopressin orthologue - inotocin peptides and their receptors. The signalling system is present in early arthropods and representatives of some early-diverging lineages. However, Trichoptera, Lepidoptera, Siphonaptera, Mecoptera and Diptera, lack the presence of inotocin genes, which suggests the peptide-receptor system was probably lost in their common ancestor ~280 million-years-ago. In addition we detected several losses of the inotocin signalling system in Hemiptera (white flies, scale insects and aphids), and the complete absence in spiders (Chelicerata). This unique insight into evolutionarily patterns and sequence diversity of neuroendocrine hormones will provide opportunities to elucidate the physiology of the inotocin signalling system in one of the largest group of animals.

Concepts: Protein, Evolution, Insect, Arthropod, Hemiptera, Spider, Insects, Endopterygota

6

The cross-pollination of most alpine plants depends on insects, whose altitudinal distribution is limited by temperature. However, although global warming is causing shifts in temporal and spatial species distribution, we are still largely unaware of how plant-pollinator interactions change with elevation and time along altitudinal gradients. This makes the detection of endangered interactions and species challenging. In this study, we aimed at providing such a reference, and tested if and how the major flower-visiting insect orders and families segregated by altitude, phenology and foraging preferences along an elevational gradient from 970 m to 2700 m in the Alps. Flies were the main potential pollinators from 1500 m, as bees and beetles decreased rapidly above that limit. Diptera, Coleoptera and Hymenoptera differed significantly in the angiosperm assemblages visited. Within Diptera, the predominant group, major families segregated by both phenology and foraging preferences along the gradient. Empidids, muscids and anthomyiids, whose role in pollination has never been investigated, dominated the upper part of the gradient. Our results thus suggest that flies and the peculiar plants they visit might be particularly at risk under global warming, and highlight the blatant lack of studies about critical components of these rich, yet fragile mountain ecosystems.

Concepts: Insect, Larva, Ecology, Pollination, Insects, Pterygota, Endopterygota, Neoptera

6

During the mid-Cretaceous, angiosperms diversified from several nondiverse lineages to their current global domination [1], replacing earlier gymnosperm lineages [2]. Several hypotheses explain this extensive radiation [3], one of which involves proliferation of insect pollinator associations in the transition from gymnosperm to angiosperm dominance. However, most evidence supports gymnosperm-insect pollinator associations, buttressed by direct evidence of pollen on insect bodies, currently established for four groups: Thysanoptera (thrips), Neuroptera (lacewings), Diptera (flies), and now Coleoptera (beetles). Each group represents a distinctive pollination mode linked to a unique mouthpart type and feeding guild [4-9]. Extensive indirect evidence, based on specialized head and mouthpart morphology, is present for one of these pollinator types, the long-proboscid pollination mode [10], representing minimally ten family-level lineages of Neuroptera, Mecoptera (scorpionflies), and Diptera [8, 10, 11]. A recurring feature uniting these pollinator modes is host associations with ginkgoalean, cycad, conifer, and bennettitalean gymnosperms. Pollinator lineages bearing these pollination modes were categorized into four evolutionary cohorts during the 35-million-year-long angiosperm radiation, each defined by its host-plant associations (gymnosperm or angiosperm) and evolutionary pattern (extinction, continuation, or origination) during this interval [12]. Here, we provide the first direct evidence for one cohort, exemplified by the beetle Darwinylus marcosi, family Oedemeridae (false blister beetles), that had an earlier gymnosperm (most likely cycad) host association, later transitioning onto angiosperms [13]. This association constitutes one of four patterns explaining the plateau of family-level plant lineages generally and pollinating insects specifically during the mid-Cretaceous angiosperm radiation [12].

Concepts: Insect, Plant, Pollination, Pollen, Insects, Pterygota, Gymnosperm, Endopterygota