Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Age-old relationship between birds and flowers: World’s oldest fossil of a nectarivorous bird

Date:
May 27, 2014
Source:
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum
Summary:
Scientists have described the oldest known fossil of a pollinating bird. The well-preserved stomach contents contained pollen from various flowering plants. This indicates that the relationship between birds and flowers dates back at least 47 million years. The fossil comes from the well-known fossil site “Messel Pit.”

The fossil bird from Messel with its revealing stomach contents (insert)
Credit: Senckenberg

Scientists of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt have described the oldest known fossil of a pollinating bird. The well-preserved stomach contents contained pollen from various flowering plants. This indicates that the relationship between birds and flowers dates back at least 47 million years. The fossil comes from the well-known fossil site "Messel Pit." The study was published today in the scientific journal Biology Letters.

Related Articles


They fly from flower to flower, and with their long, slender bills they transfer the pollen required for the plants' reproduction. Particularly in the tropics and subtropics, birds, besides insects, serve as the most important pollinators.

"While this process is well known and understood in the present, geological history has offered very little evidence of pollination through birds," says Dr. Gerald Mayr, head of the Ornithological Section at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt. He adds, "there have been occasional hints, such as characteristic bill shapes, that nectarivorous birds occurred in the past, but, so far, there existed no conclusive evidence."

Now, however, the ornithologist from Frankfurt and his colleague, paleobotanist Dr. Volker Wilde, have found this evidence. In the well-preserved stomach contents of a fossil bird unearthed in the Messel Pit, the scientists discovered fossilized pollen grains.

"This is another discovery that underlines the unique significance of the Messel fossil site," exclaims a delighted Dr. Wilde. "Not only does the presence of pollen offer direct evidence of the bird's feeding habits, but it shows that birds already visited flowers as long as 47 million years ago!"

Fossil evidence for the existence of pollinating insects dates back to the Cretaceous period. Until now, however, there had been no information at what time pollination through vertebrates, and birds in particular, came into existence. To date, the oldest indication of an avian pollinator came from the early Oligocene, about 30 million years ago. "But this hummingbird fossil only offers indirect evidence of the existence of nectarivorous birds," explains Mayr. "Thanks to the excellent state of preservation of the Messel bird, we were able to identify two different types of pollen, which is the first conclusive proof of nectarivory."

Large numbers of differently sized pollen grains were found in the stomach contents of the completely preserved avian fossil. "Along with the bird's skeletal anatomy, this indicates that we indeed have the fossil of a nectarivorous bird" explains Wilde.

And the spectacular discovery also suggests another conclusion: If a pollinating bird lived as much as 47 million years ago, it must be assumed that some representatives of the flora at that time had already adapted to this mode of pollination.

"To date, there are no fossil plants from this geological era that offer proof of the existence of ornithophily -- i.e., the pollination of flowers through birds," adds paleobotanist Wilde.

"However, the characteristic traits of bird-pollinated plants, such as red flowers or a lack of scent, do not fossilize," elaborates Mayr. This lends an even greater importance to discoveries such as the Messel bird to understand the interactions between birds and flowers through geological time.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. G. Mayr, V. Wilde. Eocene fossil is earliest evidence of flower-visiting by birds. Biology Letters, 2014; 10 (5): 20140223 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0223

Cite This Page:

Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. "Age-old relationship between birds and flowers: World’s oldest fossil of a nectarivorous bird." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140527214938.htm>.
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. (2014, May 27). Age-old relationship between birds and flowers: World’s oldest fossil of a nectarivorous bird. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140527214938.htm
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. "Age-old relationship between birds and flowers: World’s oldest fossil of a nectarivorous bird." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140527214938.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Reuters - Entertainment Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) The iconic piano from "Casablanca" and the Cowardly Lion suit from "The Wizard of Oz" fetch millions at auction. Sara Hemrajani reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) Media is calling it an "underwater Pompeii." Researchers have found ruins off the coast of Delos. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amphipolis Tomb Architraves Reveal Faces

Amphipolis Tomb Architraves Reveal Faces

AFP (Nov. 22, 2014) Faces in an area of mosaics is the latest find by archaeologists at a recently discovered tomb dating back to fourth century BC and the time of Alexander the Great in Greece. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins