Jungle plant has evolved 'bat signal'

Aug. 1, 2011 at 8:04 PM

BRISTOL, England, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- British scientists say a forest plant dependent on bats for pollination has evolved leaves shaped like dishes to attract bats by echoing their sounds back.

University of Bristol researchers say the Cuban rainforest vine Marcgravia evenia has developed a distinctive concave leaf that resembles a dish reflector next to its flowers.

Analyzing the leaf's acoustic properties, they discovered it can send back strong, multidirectional echoes with a distinctive acoustic signature perfect for revealing the location of the plant's flower to echo-locating bats, a university release said.

They trained nectar-feeding bats to search for a single small feeder hidden within an artificial foliage background, recording the time the bats took to find it.

A dish-shaped leaf replica like that of M. evenia placed above the feeder reduced search times by about 50 percent, they found.

"This echo beacon has benefits for both the plant and the bats," researcher Marc Holderied said. "On one hand, it increases the foraging efficiency of nectar-feeding bats, which is of particular importance as they have to pay hundreds of visits to flowers each night to fulfill their energy needs. On the other hand, the M. evenia vine occurs in such low abundance that it requires highly mobile pollinators."

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