This picture of an insect on a flower represents two empires that are united by intricate relationships. These empires personify critically important connections in Nature that life on Earth, including we humans, depend upon to survive. The plant-insect interface is a major interacting force that has generated the present diversity of both terrestrial plant and animal life forms. Animal life, including the insect empire, cannot exist in the absence of the green plants that convert the sun’s energy into usable food. On the other hand, the plant empire’s lengthy co-evolution with the animal/insect world is a major reason why there is great diversity in the plant world. The presence of terrestrial flowering plants are an essential condition for insect development for it is the interrelationship with the plant world that the insect empire has reached its highest degree of specialization.
Insects have the most species of any class of organism on earth. Green plants make up the greatest part of all biomass on land. Nearly half of all existing insect species feed on living plants. More than 400,000 plant eating insect species live on approximately 300,000 vascular plant species. Probably no other interactions between groups of organisms comparable in type and extent can be found elsewhere in the living world.
The word that is commonly used to describe the connection between flowers and bugs is co-evolution. Some bugs are specifically adapted to feeding upon and pollinating specific kinds of flowers. Bees are the most well known example. They are attracted to only to certain kinds of flowers.
Nectar-eating insects and flowers have evolved to become highly dependent on one another. While most evolutionary processes involve direct adaptations of a single species, with bees and flowers, the evolutionary process involves two interlinked species. How flowers have adapted to ensure the survival of bees and how bees have adapted to ensure the survival of flowers is a well-documented and fascinating example of co-evolution
Most of the plant kingdom’s ancestors were wind pollinated. Wind has the advantage of carrying pollen long distances and spreading it over vast areas. However, in wind pollination, much of the pollen will never find its way to the proper species of plant. Insect pollination helps solve this problem. At some point in a plant’s evolutionary process, insect pollination helped the plant reproduce more efficiently. Therefore, those plants most able to attract insects were also those most likely to survive. Thus, plants evolved certain characteristics to attract insects such as bees. These characteristics include a flowers’ bright colors and particular forms as well as nectar-secreting structures used to lure insects. Because bees in particular may collect either nectar or pollen for food, they have become among the most efficient of pollinators. As flower pollinators, bees have evolved into a powerful connecting force in Nature.
Take a moment to think about how you are connected to and dependent upon the connection between bugs and flowers. Either directly or indirectly, much of your food comes from pollinated plants. Consequently, you are part of the larger series of interrelationships that depend upon the biological intimacy between bugs and flowers.
Worth Your Extra Attention :
The University of Cincinnati has provided an excellent web page with lots of detail about coevolution. It is worth your time to examine their wide assortment of fascinating examples of coevolving connections in Nature.
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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.