(ORDO NEWS) — When we hear the word pollination, we first of all imagine insects buzzing over a flowering meadow and collecting nectar and pollen from bright corollas.
Now scientists have found that such relationships between plants and animals are probably older than not only angiosperms, but all terrestrial flora in general – after all, they were able to detect the “pollination” of red algae by tiny isopods.
For a long time, scientists believed that in the sea there is no such close relationship between animals and plants in the processes of reproduction of the latter.
In particular, the role of exclusively sea currents, but not animals, was recognized in the distribution and transfer of male gametes of red algae .
Now an international team of researchers has been able to show that there is a symbiosis in the sea between at least one pair of biological species: the isopod crustacean Idotea balthica and the red algae Gracilaria gracilis , whose male gametes are transferred from plant to plant by a crustacean briskly swimming between them.
The male reproductive organs ( antheridia ) of the red algae secrete a lot of sticky mucus, so that the spermatozoa easily stick to the Idothea swimming nearby and are transferred by it to the female plant.
At the same time, not only the plant benefits: Idothes live on red algae, clinging to them so that they do not blow away with the current, and eating small animals living on them.
Such relationships between organisms are called mutualism – mutually beneficial cooperation, similar to the relationship of flowering plants and insects. And this is the first example of such a symbiosis between animals and algae.
The findings raise the question of how long ago plants “tamed” animals and began to use them for successful reproduction.
Prior to this, scientists believed that the first analogues of pollination appeared in primitive angiosperms almost 140 million years ago, already in the Cretaceous period.
But red algae arose more than 800 million years ago, and their relationship with animals may have existed for just as long.
In the future, the team of researchers is going to answer other questions: for example, does a passing moth stimulate the release of sperm from the antheridium, whether crustaceans are able to distinguish male plants from female plants, and whether there are other similar relationships between marine organisms.
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