July 29, 2011

Rainforest Vine Evolved To Attract Bats

Scientists have found a rainforest vine that has evolved dish-shaped leaves to attract the bats that pollinate it.

Tests found that the leaves were supremely efficient at bouncing back the sound pulses the flying mammals used to navigate.

The bats were found to be able to locate the plant when the leaves were present twice as quickly as when they were removed.

This study is the first to find a plant with "specialized acoustic features" to help bat pollinators find them using sound.

Bats send out pulses of sound to find their way around, a process known as echolocation.

"We already knew that plants used their brightly colored petals to attract pollinators," Marc Holderied from the University of Bristol, one of the researchers involved in the study, said in a press release.

"What we've found is the echolocating equivalent to colorful flowers.

"We have a shape that produces an echo - an 'echoacoustic beacon'."

The scientists first noticed the Caribbean plant in a photograph in a Natural History magazine.

"We immediately recognized that this dish-shaped leaf could be a perfect bat attractor," he recalled.

The researchers brought the plant into their laboratory and bounced to measure its acoustics.

They then tested how the bats resounded to it.

The team set a test for a group of nectar-feeding bats to measure how long it took them to locate a smaller feeder in a dark room.

"Once we added the leaf, that really did the trick," Dr Holderied said in a press release. "The bats found the feeder in half the time."

"Now we know that the acoustic clues are important for pollination."

The researchers published their findings in the journal Science.


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