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Archive - Jul 10, 2015

Certain Carnivorous Pitcher Plants in Borneo Use Echo Reflectors to Attract Bats That Roost Safely in the Plants and Supply Nitrogen to the Plants in a Mutualistic Relationship

In Borneo, some insectivorous bats have developed a rather intriguing relationship with carnivorous pitcher plants. The plants offer the bats a relatively cool place to roost, free of parasites and competition from other bats. In return, the bats keep the plants well fertilized with their droppings. Now, researchers reporting online in an open-access article in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on July 9, 2015 show that the plants rely on special structures to reflect the bats' ultrasonic calls back to them. That adaptation of the plants makes it easier for bats to find their plant partners in the cluttered forest. "With these structures, the plants are able to acoustically stand out from their environments so that bats can easily find them," says Dr. Michael Schöner of Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University of Greifswald in Germany. "Moreover, the bats are clearly able to distinguish their plant partner from other plants that are similar in shape, but lack the conspicuous reflector." The Current Biology article is titled “Bats Are Acoustically Attracted to Mutualistic Carnivorous Plants." It all started when study author Dr. Ulmar Grafe of the University Brunei Darussalam discovered bats roosting inside pitcher plants. He, along with Michael and Caroline Schöner and Gerald Kerth, senior author of the new study, first explored what the plants and their bat partners were each getting out of the deal. Their findings--that the plants offer bats a place to roost in return for nitrogen--helped to explain something that had vexed pitcher plant researchers: those plants, Nepenthes hemsleyana, are rather bad at attracting insects, compared to their carnivorous relatives. In the new study, the researchers wondered how N. hemsleyana and the bats, Kerivoula hardwickii, find each other. After all, both species are relatively rare, and they live in a rather crowded place.