Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pitcher perfect- a strange mutualism

Carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap capture insects and digest them to obtain protein (which is made up of Nitrogen). What could a bat and a carnivorous plant have in common? Recently, a group of German researchers demonstrated that these two organisms can develop a mutualistic association. (Mutualisms develop when both partners of a relationship gain something through their association with the other individual, many examples of which occur nature).

This fascinating study conducted in Brunei demonstrated that bats use pitcher plants as roosting sites and in turn the nitrogen rich feces (guano) from the bats fall into the pitcher of the plant where it like the insects the plant usually digests is incorporated into the plant's tissue.

The bat (woolly bats (Kerivoula hardwickii)) is provided with a place to live while the plant (areal pitcher plant (Nepenthes rafflesiana) gets its highly sought after nitrogen!

The precarious roosting location for the bats aside this fascinating study that uses both radio telemetry and stable isotope ecological methods reveals an unlikely relationship between carnivorous plants and bats.

The article:
Grafe, T. U., C.R. Schoener, G. Kerth, A. Junaidi, and M.G. Schoener. (2011). A novel resource-service mutalism between bats and pitcher plants. Biology Letters