Red algae generally spread their equivalent pollen thanks to the flow of water. But biologists have discovered that Idotea balthica is equivalent to terrestrial bees. As the creatures swim among some red algae, sticky sperm cells from the male algae stick to the woodlice’s shield. It releases it when it comes into contact with a female algae and thus aids in reproduction. Just as insects pollinating with nectar are rewarded, woodlice also benefit from their contribution. It finds food and protection from heavy currents among the algae.
Researchers grew red algae in the lab in aquariums with and without marine cysts, and found that its presence increased the number of fertilizings by 20 times. Under the microscope, it turned out that the animals were completely covered with “pollen”.
It is not clear how much sea sediment contributes to algal conservation. According to the researchers, it is important to get more insights into this matter if we are to protect the biodiversity of our oceans. Because while scientists do a lot of research on the impact of global warming and environmental pollution on the relationship between plants and pollinators on Earth, we know little about how they work underwater.
This is the first time that scientists have proven that animals pollinate seaweed. A few years ago, another research team had already shown that zooplankton play a role in the reproduction of some seaweeds. But while seagrass is closely related to terrestrial plants, seaweed is much less closely related.
This discovery sheds light on the role animals play in pollinating plants. Until recently, scientists assumed that land plants were the first animals to lift their weight about 140 million years ago. But red algae already live about 800 million on our planet, so animal pollination may be much older than thought.
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