Thursday, May 29, 2014

[PaleoOrnithology • 2014] Eocene Fossil is Earliest Evidence of Flower-visiting by Birds, Pumiliornis tessellatus, from Messel, Germany

Figure 1. Skeleton of Pumiliornis tessellatus from the Middle Eocene of Messel (SMF-ME 11414a) with preserved stomach contents. (a) Overview of specimen, framed area indicates position of detail shown in (b), stomach contents are encircled.

Birds are important pollinators, but the evolutionary history of ornithophily (bird pollination) is poorly known. Here, we report a skeleton of the avian taxon Pumiliornis from the middle Eocene of Messel in Germany with preserved stomach contents containing numerous pollen grains of an eudicotyledonous angiosperm. The skeletal morphology of Pumiliornis is in agreement with this bird having been a, presumably nectarivorous, flower-visitor. It represents the earliest and first direct fossil evidence of flower-visiting by birds and indicates a minimum age of 47 million years for the origin of bird–flower interactions. As Pumiliornis does not belong to any of the modern groups of flower-visiting birds, the origin of ornithophily in some angiosperm lineages may have predated that of their extant avian pollinators.

Keywords: bird pollination, ornithophily, fossil, birds, Messel, Eocene

Gerald Mayr and Volker Wilde. 2014. Eocene Fossil is Earliest Evidence of Flower-visiting by Birds. Biol. Lett. 10(5); 20140223 doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0223

Pumiliornis tessellatus: Oldest Known Fossil of Nectarivorous Bird Discovered