Matey mites make ferns mate according to an article in ScienceNOW and Science vol. 313, p1255, 1 September 2006. Ferns and mosses reproduce differently from flowering plants. Instead of producing pollen male plants, they produce sperm, which have to swim to female plants. The sperm can only swim two to three centimetres (one inch), but botanists have observed that female plants can be fertilised and produce sporophytes (the equivalent of seeds) even if the nearest male plants are up to 20cm (8 inches) away.

To see if the sperm are getting any help from moss and fern loving bugs, such as mites and springtails, scientists at Lund University, Sweden set up an experiment with male and female clusters of silver moss in dishes coated with plaster of Paris. The plaster trapped any sperm attempting to swim away from male plants. If male and female plants were placed together so they were touching, the females produced sporophytes, but if they were separated by a few centimetres they didn't. However, if mites and springtails were allowed to crawl around the dishes containing the plants, the female plants produced sporophytes even if they were separated from the males. The researchers then studied mites to see if they were attracted to fertile plants, rather than just randomly moving around.

Five times as many mites visited the fertile plants, so researchers suggest the plants produce some kind of food reward for the insects, in the same way as flowers provide nectar for their pollinators. Current evolutionary theory states that insect mediated plant fertilisation evolved when flowering plants evolved about 140 million years ago, but the Lund university researchers commented that mosses, ferns, mites and springtails supposedly evolved about 300 million years before flowering plants. In their concluding paragraph they write: "Mosses, springtails, and mites are extant representatives of taxa that originated after the early phase of land colonization (circa 440 to 470 million years ago). Animal-mediated fertilization in mosses therefore potentially antedates similar syndromes in other plant groups."

Editorial Comment: Genesis tells us that living things were created by God as fully formed and completely functional organisms from the beginning. All plants were made on the third day of creation, while the animals that help pollinate them were made on the fifth and sixth days. Such a complex interdependent symbiotic relationship between mosses, ferns and insects (along with the relationship between flowering plants and pollinators) is a challenge both to those who want to make the days of Genesis long periods, as well as those who proclaim evolution. Such plants would have died out if their pollinators or sperm carriers were not created within their own lifespan. Therefore, it you want to make Genesis days millions of years, you have thrown the whole of Genesis out. (Ref. symbiosis, ecology, bryophytes)

Evidence News 21 September 2006


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