Evolutionary history and amber

Figure1
Left: examplars of scale insect families displaying morphological diversity. Right: exquisitely preserved male scale insects in Cretaceous Burmese and Lebanese ambers (Vea and Grimaldi 2016, Sci.Rep.)

Scale insects are hiding a fascinating evolutionary history as they display today extremely diverse morphologies, habitats and genetic systems. However, not much is known about their evolution since they have been mostly studied as agricultural pests.

My Ph.D. research aimed at constructing a dated tree of life of scale insects using fossils preserved in amber and extant scale insect systematics, reconciling the paleontological and neontological study in this group.

divergencetime-veagrimaldi
Divergence time estimates of scale insect lineages, incorporating fossil groups (Vea and Grimaldi, 2016 Sci.Rep.)

Scale insects are represented by comprehensive fossil record in several amber deposits back to 135 million years ago and therefore could be used an ideal group to incorporate fossil morphological study into a phylogeny.

My study uncovered unsuspected extinct diversity in Cretaceous ambers and the divergence time estimates suggest that scale insects diversified a long time before the diversification of flowering plants, which are their main hosts today.