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Erica Walsh
IU Southeast

Last modified: Monday, December 17, 2007

New research at IU Southeast provides better understanding of the birds and the bees

Dec. 17, 2007

NEW ALBANY, Ind. -- Researchers from Indiana University Southeast and the University of Florida have discovered important information about the origin of flowering plants and how they reproduce.

The findings of Shusheng Hu, an IU Southeast research associate; David Winship Taylor, IU Southeast biology professor; and David L. Dilcher and David M. Jarzen, both from the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, are featured in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


A 96-million-year-old anglosperm pollen cluster

Print-Quality Photo

Their research uncovered that when it comes to birds, bees, flowers and trees, looks do matter. Flowers are pretty so they will attract animals, such as birds and bees, for pollination. Pines and other seed plants are normally pollinated by the wind.

Furthermore, this form of plant sex has been happening for ages. Fossilized flowers have shown that animals have been helping plants reproduce since ancient times. The new data on plant reproduction suggests that 76 percent of the first flowering plant species were insect-pollinated while 24 percent were pollinated by the wind.

The botanists studied the specialization of fossil pollen from Minnesota and discovered that many species of pollen are found clumped. Clumped pollen is only found in animal-pollinated flowers.

The research also suggested that pollen may have been the source of prehistoric allergies.

At 96 million years ago, about a quarter of flowers were wind-pollinated. Wind-pollinated plants are the main source of allergies in people, which leads to the thought that perhaps those plants caused allergic reactions in dinosaurs and other animals.

Recent molecular work determined an evolutionary tree of living flowering plants and identified the first evolvers. Based on the researchers' analyses, these flowers probably used insect pollinators.

For more information and a complete report, visit the Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at IU Southeast professor David Taylor and research associate Shusheng Hu are available for interviews concerning this project. To arrange an interview contact Erica Walsh, public information specialist at IU Southeast, at or 812-941-2414.

About IU Southeast: IU Southeast is one of eight campuses of Indiana University. Offering more than 50 degree programs, the scenic 177-acre campus is located less than 15 minutes from downtown Louisville, Ky. It currently has an enrollment of more than 6,000 students and employs more than 400 faculty members. For more information, visit IU Southeast is a tobacco-free campus.