Rainforest plant developed ‘sonar dish’ to attract pollinating bats

Flowering inflorescence of Marcgravia evenia. (A) dish-shaped leaf, (B) ring of flowers most of them in the male phase with anthers shedding pollen, (C) cup-like nectaries. (Credit: Image © Ralph Mangelsdorff)

How plants sound as well as how they look helps them to attract pollinators, a new study by scientists at the University of Bristol, UK, and the Universities of Erlangen and Ulm, Germany has found.

The researchers discovered that a rainforest vine, pollinated by bats, has evolved dish-shaped leaves with such conspicuous echoes that nectar-feeding bats can find its flowers twice as fast by echolocation. The study is published in Science.

While it is well known that the bright colours of flowers serve to attract visually-guided pollinators such as bees and birds, little research has been done to see whether plants which rely on echolocating bats for pollination and seed dispersal have evolved analogous echo-acoustic signals.

The Cuban rainforest vine Marcgravia evenia has developed a distinctively shaped concave leaf next to its flowers which, the researchers noticed, is reminiscent of a dish reflector. By analyzing the leaf’s acoustic reflection properties, they found that it acts as an ideal echo beacon, sending back strong, multidirectional echoes with an easily recognizable, and unvarying acoustic signature — perfect for making the flower obvious to echolocating bats.

via Rainforest plant developed ‘sonar dish’ to attract pollinating bats.

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