India’s 30 million year long ‘isolation’ was not so isolated, finds new study

Throwing fresh light on how India gradually drifted away from Africa and Madagascar and collided with the Eurasian plate, scientists now report India was by no means as isolated as we thought during its journey.

It was common belief among researchers that before it collided with the Eurasian plate, India was largely isolated for at least 30 million years during its migration.

The research was done by German, Polish and Indian scientists, with the Indian contribution coming from Hukam Singh, a scientists at the Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleosciences, Lucknow. The study is published in the peer reviewed journal PLOS ONE.
The insects, called ‘biting midges’ were less than a millimeter long and were fossilized in amber, a tree resin. They were discovered in the Cambay basin near Surat in Gujarat. Their age has been estimated at 54 million years ago, a time when the Indian plate should have been isolated and surrounded by oceans.
India harbours many unique species of flora and fauna that only occur in this form on the subcontinent. The prerequisite for such a unique development of species is that no exchange takes place with other regions. For a long time, scientists assumed that India was isolated in this way due to continental drift. The supercontinent Gondwana, which included South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Madagascar and India, broke up over the course of geological history. What is now India also began moving towards the north east around 130 million years ago. It was common belief among researchers that, before it collided with the Eurasian plate, India was largely isolated for at least 30 million years during its migration. “Certain midges that occurred in India at this time display great similarity to examples of a similar age from Europe and Asia,” says lead author Frauke Stebner from the working group of Prof. Jes Rust at the Steinmann Institute at the University of Bonn.

 The scientist from the University of Bonn mined for amber in seams of coal near Surat. Small midges, among other things, were encased in tree resin 54 million years ago and preserved as fossils. Their descendants can still be found today in Germany in meadows and forests – where the little beasts attack you in swarms and suck your blood.
 The paleontologists investigated a total of 38 biting midges encased in amber and compared them with examples of a similar age from Europe and China. It has been possible to assign a total of 34 of these insect fossils to genera that are already known. “There was significant conformity with biting midges in amber from the Baltic and Fushun in north-east China,” reports Stebner.
 How the insects were able to spread between drifting India and Eurasia has not yet been clarified fully. Stebner assumes that a chain of islands that existed at that time between India, Europe and Asia could have helped the biting midges to spread. As if from stepping stone to stepping stone, the insects could have gradually moved forward along the islands. “Some of the biting midges found in Indian amber were presumably not especially good long-distance flyers,” smiles the paleontologist from the University of Bonn. It was therefore probably not so easy to reach the subcontinent or move from there during the migration of India

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