Using the University of Florida as melting point, over 100 researchers from 10 countries have established that insects ruled the earth 400 million years ago, and they have reconstructed the insect tree of life to learn other facts related to this finding.
The team of researchers wanted to know how the earth has evolved due to the activities of insects and plants, knowing full well that insects act as pollination agents while also threatening natural resources and shaping terrestrial living space.
According to Akito Kawahar, an assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History, “until now, we didn’t have a good understanding of how these diverse groups of insects are related to each other. Many insects important to everyday life and scientific research were included in the study, such as agricultural pests, vectors of disease and pollinators. This study provides a foundation for future study of insects. For example, if we want to understand the genetics of how silk is produced, we must first understand how silk worms evolved over time.”
Nearly 1,500 DNA genes of 144 insect species were meticulously sequenced in order to arrive at an estimate of the dates and origin and relationship between all insect groups. To this end, Bernhard Misof of the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig, Germany, states that “insects are the most species-rich organisms on earth. They are of immense ecological, economic and medical importance and affect our daily lives, from pollinating our crops to vectoring diseases. We can only start to understand the enormous species richness and ecological importance of insects with a reliable reconstruction of how they are related.”
Since the study has given insights into the fact that terrestrial plants and insects originated simultaneously about 480 million years ago, it also revealed that earlier land ecosystem was shaped by the activities of both insects and plants. Kawahara believes that “the questions that surround this study have to do with how life on Earth came to be what it is today. For insects, one of the major hypotheses is that angiosperm radiation correlated with the diversification of insects. This study allows scientists to look at broad questions like this.”
The curator and head of invertebrate zoology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Gavin Svenson believed that “the findings not only advance our understanding of the origins of insects, but add confidence to our organization of the groups. This new knowledge will significantly build the capability of evolutionary research, as well as comparative biology, since accurate measures of organismal relationships are fundamental to our interpretation of morphology, genetics and physiology, to name a few.” And Karl Kjer of the Rutgers University adds that “many previously intractable questions are now resolved, while many of the ‘revolutions’ brought about by previous analyses of smaller molecular datasets have contained errors that are now being corrected.