Scale insect larvae preserved in vertebrate coprolites (Le Quesnoy, France, Lower Eocene): paleoecological insights
The radiation of flowering plants in the mid-Cretaceous transformed landscapes and is widely believed to have fuelled the radiations of major groups of phytophagous insects. An excellent group to test this assertion is the scale insects (Coccomorpha: Hemiptera), with some 8,000 described Recent species and probably the most diverse fossil record of any phytophagous insect group preserved in amber. We used here a total-evidence approach (by tip-dating) employing 174 morphological characters of 73 Recent and 43 fossil taxa (48 families) and DNA sequences of three gene regions, to obtain divergence time estimates and compare the chronology of the most diverse lineage of scale insects, the neococcoid families, with the timing of the main angiosperm radiation. An estimated origin of the Coccomorpha occurred at the beginning of the Triassic, about 245 Ma [228-273], and of the neococcoids 60 million years later [210-165 Ma]. A total-evidence approach allows the integration of extinct scale insects into a phylogenetic framework, resulting in slightly younger median estimates than analyses using Recent taxa, calibrated with fossil ages only. From these estimates, we hypothesise that most major lineages of coccoids shifted from gymnosperms onto angiosperms when the latter became diverse and abundant in the mid- to Late Cretaceous.