Early Start for Plant-Insect Dance

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Science  16 Aug 1996:
Vol. 273, Issue 5277, pp. 872
DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5277.872


Insects and plants have been exploiting each other for millennia, often to spectacular effect. Hungry insects, for instance, spurred plants to invent attractive flowers, which bribe insects into carrying pollen by offering them meals of nectar. Most scientists have assumed such mutual manipulations date back about 125 million years, when flowering plants first appeared. But paleontologists Conrad Labandeira of the National Museum of Natural History and Tom Phillips of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign report in the 6 August issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that new evidence indicates that insects and plants took some of the first steps in their intimate dance more than twice that early—and that they paired up not for mutual benefit but in a drama of attack and self-defense.