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Archive for the ‘Pollination biology’ Category

Enjoy this video worth a word of the week section. Go to vimeo to comment there and compliment the author too!

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Hum, it’s been a long time ago… Well, I promised anyway, so here we go. This post is still about bioblitzing. I keep up with blitzes, because this is what walks naturally look like in the family. And this time, I walked the shore until I reached this small island. Not a remote wild place, but definitely not the place people would really go a blitz! So once we’re done I can add a bold line in my résumé that I produced a listing of species of an entire island. There might be another post in the coming weeks when I’ll tell you about a sister species that I blitzed the very following day. It’s amazing because they each correspond to a different stage of the “heath to forest” community succession. But it’s slightly more remote and I almost had been stuck for a whole sea cycle. But let’s go back to Tanguy Island. I finished the easy part: the final stages with Bracken ferns and even the Pines understorey (they would probably be Oaks inside the land, but sea shores go Conifers). (more…)

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This is a Protea species

So, do you know what kind of pollinator is playing the game of pollen carryover in this Protea species? Could you guess? If you look closely, you might find help…

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Angraecum (here: scottianum), flower

Orthoptera are well known for preferentially eating plants rather than pollinate them. Indeed, even when they are off to a flower, they’re eventually chewing bits at best, or uncaringly eat the whole plant. Hoppers chills are thus really signs of scare to most plants.

Except one of course. Not that it produces noxious chemicals, but that it uses an orthopteran species as a pollinator. Yep, I’m not talking bees, flies, butterflies. Nor bugs, which are also not classically recognized as potential pollinators. Orthoptera this times.

Of course, one would expect such a species to be sort of a special family. Bingo, orchids! You bet… So very recently, a undescribed cricket species, was confounded as a pollinator of a very rare (and endangered of course) orchid: Angraecum cadetii (from Mascarene Archipelago). The Genus produces species with pale or white flowers, so you would typically expect pollinators to be nocturnal. Which is correct for this species. Not only are they drinking nectar and leaving the flower going with a set of pollinia, but they are also not bad pollinating once they carry the gametes load. This time pollen really hop to one plant to the other.

This is the first time an orthoptera is shown to actively pollinate a plant, which is neat. But there’s more in the study*. What I find of special interest is that these yet-to-be-named cricket is that they actively forage for fresh flowers (that is, the quite recently open, filled with nectar and thus sweety scenting), usually the latest open on an inflorescence, which also means that they tend to look for flowers of another (neighbouring) plant, and therefore probably limit self fertilization in the orchid. And that’s pretty cool for the host plant, even if these consequences need further consideration (well, proof yet needed, I hope this is what the authors are going to tell us next!).


* C. Micheneau, J. Fournel, B. H. Warren, S. Hugel, A. Gauvin-Bialecki, T. Pailler, D. Strasberg, and M. W. Chase (2010).
Orthoptera, a new order of pollinator. AOBPreview published on January 11, 2010. (i.e. to appear soon in Annals of Botany).

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So here are a few gems from a student exam in Plant Morphology class (Anonymity is entirely respected since this is not mine anyway).  I acknowledge that this is a rather ‘private’  post since many (lay) readers may not spot the issue  or the joke in these answers to the test. I tried to add the basic background information needed to decipher the joker within. Let’s keep in mind that students are supposed to learn  and understand their lesson and a lower treshold in the basics is expected. It is, I think, legitimate to have a good laugh when the mistake is abysmal. Most of these gems are entertaining or cute, to a teacher (though they might drive them to despair). Anyway, some students do have a clear preference (not to say a strong bias already) towards animals but must take the class (it is not optional). It certainly doesn’t reflect their biological level but most likely their (lack of) interest in plant biology.

Warning: some jokes may be lost in translation…

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Nectar production is anything but a cheap strategy. Indeed, you bet on a real increase of fitness (pollinators tend to remember those flowers that are rewarding most, that’s their business after all -and yours is ending up with more seeds). But on the other hand, the so precious potion may finish in bad hands legs: those of hexapodic visitors that will take the offer away (pollen, nectar) without contributing to pollination of any kind your kind*. Then the efforts of putting much into sugars or complex attractive addictive chemistry will be gone with the wind insect. A total waste instead of the increased pollen import/export that was hoped for (unless you don’t care at all about huge nectar loss but wish to protect yourself against the sun)…

Indeed, with nectar at pollinators’ disposal, plants face a non negligible risk of larceny. Nectar is a great resource to opportunistic wanderers, and because it is so costly to produce and maintain available to pollinators, one should expect tricky solutions to simple but unavoidable issues such as theft.

We already discussed a strange case where the plant ended up domesticating a nectar robber and turned it into its main pollinating agent. Today, we get another example, this time building on simpler ways of dealing with thieves: our plant found a quite basic solution [1]! (more…)

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Ferraria (Iridaceae)

Ferraria (Iridaceae)

Just read about one of my favorite plant genus, Ferraria. This is a small group of about 17 species (Wikipedia says 11 but I’ll go with Goldblatt et al. [1] who are Iridaceae if not iridescent specialists*…), and they are native from South(ern) Africa.

Ferraria have wonderful tinted flowers like they where dyed or painted and most of the time it’s really a daring mix of gray-ish colours and brighter ones. I fell in love at first sight, during my PhD field season (back in 2001). I didn’t notice they smelt that bad, else I would have guessed the most frequent pollinator cohort is dung- and game flies [1], but that could just be they smelt better than I did after a few days of field work.

Anyway, the flowers are often described as dull, even by the best botanists, so I don’t know how I should feel about my personal tastes. Maybe I’m just a “dung beak” of some sort. I was touched by their grace, their lovely colours of course, but also their particularly crisped tepals giving the impression they have been crumpled like a treat paper and just thrown away. Now I learn they have a sapromyiophilous fly pollination system. And that’s the only aim of the post, not swallowing big lovely words. Along with the unpleasant putrid scent, sapromyiophily is apparently associated with “dull” and mottled perianth. I simply wonder why this is so, and whether this relate to any actual adaptive function, such as dung usually does not look bright or spots look like fly wastes. I hope the  answer will fly out in a next future…

* Well, actually the ten first species were recognised by De Vos, three more were described or elevated to a species rank by Goldblatt and Manning in the early 2000’s and four remain to be described currently…


[1] – P. Goldblatt, P. Bernhardt & J.C. Manning (2009). Adaptive radiation of the putrid perianth: Ferraria (Iridaceae: Irideae) and its unusual pollinators. Plant Systematics & Evolution 278:53–65.

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