Due to their limited mobility, plants often depend on the assistance of pollinators. Attractively colored flowers and sweet fragrances are some common evolutionary adaptations through which plants increase their likelihood of attracting pollinators such as insects and birds.
We now have evidence that some plants may have, through evolution, changed the morphology of their leaves to attract pollinators that navigate via echolocation. According to researchers at the University of Bristol and the University of Erlangen and Ulm, Marcgravia evenia, a Cuban rainforest plant, has developed dish-shaped leaves, which reflect the sonar of bats more efficiently than flat leaves.
The researchers tested the effects of leaf shape by employing bats to locate hidden nectar under three distinct conditions: (1) nectar hidden with no leaf, (2) nectar hidden with an ordinary leaf, and (3) nectar hidden with a dish-shaped leaf. The bats took roughly the same amount of time to find nectar with no leaf as they took to find nectar with an ordinary leaf. However, the bats took only half that time to find the nectar hidden by a dish-shaped leaf.
Through the evolution of dish-shaped leaves, bats benefit by finding food more efficiently, and the plants benefit by attracting the pollinators they need to successfully reproduce.
Discussion Question: In what ways might a dish-shaped leaf disadvantage the plant?
News Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110728144717.htm, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/02/science/02obbat.html, http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/07/how-to-invite-bats-for-dinner.html
Journal Article: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6042/631
Image Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cloud_forest_Ecuador.jpg
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