PLANT ECOLOGY

Ancient leaves tattle on insects

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Science  30 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6187, pp. 985
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6187.985-a

Insects chewing leaves in the forest

PHOTO: M. CARVALHO ET AL., PLOS ONE 9 (5 MAY 2014)

Paleoentomologists have long estimated past levels of insect diversity by counting different types of leaf damage in fossils—but they've had little evidence of whether leaf damage is, in fact, a good proxy for insect diversity. Carvalho et al. examined the canopies of 24 tree species in modern tropical forests to assess the level of insect damage and identify the types of insects associated with the observed damage. The number of insect species collected from the forests correlated positively with the different types of leaf damage seen on leaves fed to these insects in the laboratory. The findings support the practice of extrapolating from fossils of chewed leaves to the diversity of the ancient chewers.

PLOS One 9, 94950 (2014).

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