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Friday, September 29, 2023

Study: Insects first to inhabit land 400 million years ago

Students would need a big sandal to swat at the insects that ruled 400 million years ago. 

UF worked with more than 100 researchers from around the world to discover that insects were among the first inhabitants to rule the land in a prehistoric time, according to a study released Friday.

Researchers reconstructed the insect tree of life by examining roughly 144 species and DNA sequences, including 1,500 genes, resulting in date estimates of origin and relationships between all major insect categories.

Akito Kawahara, co-author of the study published in the Science Magazine, wrote in an email that although insects constitute more than 1 million described species on the planet, very little is known about how the groups are related.

“A ‘tree of life’ for insects is the first step in understanding more about insects,” Kawahara said. “Without this firm understanding, it is hard to develop pesticides, medicines, help pollinators, etc.”

Mason Russo, a UF entomology sophomore, said past insect populations were known to be a lot bigger due to oxygen levels.

“Oxygen levels have decreased, so it makes sense that there were more millions of years ago,” the 20-year-old said.

The study is researchers’ best estimate, based on molecular DNA and fossils, Kawahara said. The study also found that the diversification of insects is related to the evolution of winged species. 

“It was a major international effort by researchers across disciplines,” Kawahara said.

[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 11/12/2014]

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