Plants existed on Earth for hundreds of millions of years before the first flowers bloomed. But when flowering plants did evolve more than 140 million years ago, they were a huge evolutionary success.
What pollinated these first flowering plants, the ancestor of all the flowers we see today? Was it insects carrying pollen between those early flowers, fertilizing them in the process? Or perhaps other animals, or even wind or water?
The question has been a tricky one to answer. However, in new research published in New Phytologist, we show the first pollinators were most likely insects. What’s more, despite some evolutionary detours, around 86% of all flowering plant species throughout history have also relied on insects for pollination.
The timing of the evolution of the first flowering plants is still a matter of debate. However, their success is inarguable. Around 90% of modern plants – some 300,000-400,000 species – are flowering plants, or what scientists call angiosperms. To reproduce, these plants make pollen in their flowers, which needs to be transferred to another flower to fertilize an ovule and produce a viable seed.
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