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Fossil Patagonian plants show high insect feeding diversity 52 million years ago

distance from the coast. After adjusting for sample size, the Republic site also is the most diverse in plant species of the North American sites and has diverse feeding damage.

The researchers found that the number of damage types at each of the four major Patagonian quarries significantly exceeds each of the three North American samples. The number of functional feeding groups is also greater than all North American samples for three of the four major quarries. The diversity of damage types and feeding groups at the Patagonian sites for individual plant species hosts is also highest.

"Insect damage on leaves, the remains of insect meals, is uniquely valuable data," says Wilf. "While actual insect fossils can give us taxonomic information, leaf damage provides unique ecological data about which and how many kinds of insects were eating and interacting with ancient plant species in the deep past. Also, insect damage on fossil plants, which can be very abundant, can give us a great deal of information about insects at times and places with very few insect fossils."

Finding insect fossils is rarely easy. Fewer than 100 fossil insect species have been described from South America for the past 65 million years, including a handful from Laguna del Hunco. The recent Laguna del Hunco survey recorded about 100 new insect fossils, which are now under study to determine which and how many species they represent.

This scarcity of insect information can be mitigated by looking at the fossilized remains of what the insects had for dinner. The current evidence from South America suggests that there were a large number of different insect lineages feeding on a large number of plant species.

"There was tremendous diversity and abundance of insects and plants in the Eocene," says Wilf. "Insects depend on plants to survive. If you have diverse plants, you get diverse animals. We know that plant and insect diversity are linked today and our
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Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
15-Jun-2005


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