Insect pollination for most of angiosperm evolutionary history

Ruby E. Stephens*, Rachael V. Gallagher, Lily Dun, Will Cornwell, Hervé Sauquet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


• Most contemporary angiosperms (flowering plants) are insect pollinated, but pollination by wind, water or vertebrates occurs in many lineages. Though evidence suggests insect pollination may be ancestral in angiosperms, this is yet to be assessed across the full phylogeny. Here, we reconstruct the ancestral pollination mode of angiosperms and quantify the timing and environmental associations of pollination shifts.

• We use a robust, dated phylogeny and species-level sampling across all angiosperm families to model the evolution of pollination modes. Data on the pollination system or syndrome of 1160 species were collated from the primary literature.

• Angiosperms were ancestrally insect pollinated, and insects have pollinated angiosperms for c. 86% of angiosperm evolutionary history. Wind pollination evolved at least 42 times, with few reversals to animal pollination. Transitions between insect and vertebrate pollination were more frequent: vertebrate pollination evolved at least 39 times from an insect-pollinated ancestor with at least 26 reversals. The probability of wind pollination increases with habitat openness (measured by Leaf Area Index) and distance from the equator.

• Our reconstruction gives a clear overview of pollination macroevolution across angiosperms, highlighting the long history of interactions between insect pollinators and angiosperms still vital to biodiversity today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)880-891
Number of pages12
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
Early online date5 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • angiosperms
  • flowering plants
  • insects
  • macroecology
  • macroevolution
  • pollination
  • pollination syndromes


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