Fossil leaf in the laurel family with over 30 examples of probable fairy moth feeding, from Laguna del Hunco in Patagonia, Argentina (52 Myr). Note leaf cases at centers of damaged areas. Scale intervals 1 cm.
South America has the most biodiversity of any major region today and according to an international team of researchers, that biodiversity began at least 52 million years ago.
"What defines terrestrial ecology is plant insect interactions," says Dr. Peter Wilf, assistant professor of geosciences and the John T. Ryan Jr. Faculty Fellow. "But there is very little information about the history of insects eating plants in South America, despite the tremendous number of plant and animal species there today. This study provides the first window to the past on the South American continent’s ancient diversity and abundance of insects on plants 52 million years ago. This ancient biodiversity is a legacy that will help us understand today’s South American diversity."
Wilf, working with Conrad C. Labandeira, National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution; Kirk R. Johnson, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and N. Ruben Cuneo, Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio (MEF), Trelew, Argentina, looked at plant diversity and insect feeding richness on fossil plants and compared fossil leaves collected at Laguna del Hunco, Patagonia, Argentina, that date to the globally warm Eocene, with fossil leaves collected at three Eocene sites in North America – Republic, Washington; Green River, Utah; and Sourdough, Wyoming. The researchers looked at the types and amounts of insect consumption on the fossilized leaves at all four locations.
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