THE LONG-PROBOSCID POLLINATION SYNDROME IN MID MESOZOIC EURASIA: IMPLICTIONS FOR YIXIAN FORMATION AGE
Recently, an alternative hypothesis proposes that mid Mesozoic long-proboscid flies instead were pollinating gymnospermous fructifications that variously possessed long micropyles, extended integumental channels, catchment funnels and other tubular features requiring a long proboscis to reach pollination drops compositionally comparable to angiosperm nectar. This hypothesis is inconsistent with earlier angiosperm presence in the fossil record, and is consilient with a mid Early Cretaceous (Barremian) age for the Yixian Formation, as varied, modern evidence now indicates. Currently, additional long-proboscid insect taxa, including three distinctive but related lineages of scorpionflies (Mecoptera), three families of brachyceran flies (Diptera), and now a separate lineage of distinctive planipennians (Neuroptera), have been discovered, suggesting that the siphonate proboscis originated at least five times when evaluated at the family level, within approximately a 15 m.y. interval during the Middle Jurassic (Bathonian–Callovian). This correspondence of insects with stereotyped mouthparts and plants of appropriate reproductive structure indicates a Eurasian gymnospermous pollination syndrome extending to 35 m.y. before the earliest fossil flowering plants (Valanginian). At the end of the Early Cretaceous, these gymnospermous associations were extinguished.