They discover a new family of insects from a fossil preserved in amber

They describe for the first time a representative species of a completely new family of insects belonging to the acalyptratae group, which brings together many of the most important pollinators and scavengers of modern ecosystems. They made it from a fossil preserved in Baltic amber that is between 48 and 34 million years old.

This discovery, in which the CSIC’s Doñana Biological Station is participating, is a rare discovery that will make it possible to better understand the evolutionary history of this group of insects and their functions in ecosystems, according to the authors of the study published in the journal Systematics and Phylogeny of Arthropods.

Identifying this new species has not been an easy task. They started by examining it in detail under the light of a microscope. Later they took macrophotographs to be able to observe the details with more definition. However, this was not enough to identify and classify the species.

Amber obscures many of the most important features of the specimen that remains fossilized within.

Viktor Baranov, from the Doñana Biological Station

“Amber obscures many of the most important characteristics of the specimen that remains fossilized inside and traditional microscopy does not allow us to visualize them in detail”, he explains. Victor Baranovco-author of the study.

The team then had to resort to more advanced visualization techniques, such as X-ray microtomography based on synchrotron radiation, a technology by which high-energy X-rays are used to build a three-dimensional image of the insect fossil. “The technique is similar to that used by medical professionals to diagnose diseases through computed tomography”, clarifies the researcher.

In the images, the specimen presented a peculiar combination of morphological characters that did not show apparent signs of relationship with any of the other families of the Acalyptratae group. “This meant that we were looking at a family that had never been described before, which was a very important discovery and also a very rare one, despite the fact that insects are one of the most diverse groups in the world,” says Baranov.

The scientist chose the first name in honor of the German Christel Hoffeins, a citizen scientist who made enormous contributions to paleontology.

The first author of the study, Jindřich Roháčekbaptized the new family with the name of Christelenkidae, as a combination of the names Christel and Lenka. The scientist chose the first name as Homage to the German Christel Hoffeinsa citizen scientist who has made enormous contributions to paleontology since she started collecting amber in the early 1980s. The second name recognizes the figure of Lenka Roháčekvá, wife of the scientist, for her invaluable support in her research work in the field of dipterology.

The new species in particular was named Christelenka multiplexdue to the variety of characteristics that make it unique, although there may be relationships with other families of Opomyzoidea and Ephydroidea that need to be studied in the future.

The investigation of this hitherto unknown group of flies also contributes to the knowledge of the entomofauna biodiversitywhich includes insects and other arthropods, in the so-called ‘Baltic amber forest’.

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It seems that Acalyptratae diversity was very high in this ecosystem.

Jindřich Roháček, lead author

“According to current findings, it seems that the diversity of Acalyptratae was very high in this ecosystem, probably higher than in all of contemporary Europe,” emphasizes Jindřich Roháček.

Precipitated radiation from the so-called superior Diptera may have caused this great diversity, probably related to the rapid development of vegetation in the region. early Eocene during the so-called climatic maximum. This period occurred about 49 million years ago and occurred between 15 and 20 million years after the catastrophic extinction of fauna and flora at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, known as KT, which wiped out 75% of Earth’s species, including dinosaurs. .

The Acalyptratae group is very numerous and diverse, to which important pollinators belong that play crucial roles in ecosystems. However, its fossils are extremely rare, so there is a great lack of knowledge about the evolutionary history of this group.

“This discovery may facilitate further research on this group and will allow us to better understand how they became key players in modern ecosystems”, concludes researcher Baranov. “This is especially important right now, given the biodiversity crisis the planet is going through and the worrying decline of natural pollinators.”

Reference:

Jindřich Roháček and others “Christelenkidae, a new extinct family based on a new taxon from Eocene Baltic amber (Diptera: Acalyptratae), with X-ray synchrotron microtomography images of their structures”. Systematics and Phylogeny of Arthropods.

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