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With Sonar-Reflecting Leaves, Plant Lures Bats to Poo in it

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With Sonar-Reflecting Leaves, Plant Lures Bats to Poo in it

Post by Sk on Mon Jul 20, 2015 6:49 pm

Imagine a bat flying through the jungle of
Borneo. It calls out to find a place to spend the
night. And a plant calls back. The plant in
question is Nepenthes hemsleyana, a very big
pitchers that are oddly short of fluid and that
don’t release any obvious insect attractants. When Ulmar Grafe from the University of Brunei
Darussalam looked inside them, he saw seven
times fewer insects than in other pitchers.
Instead, he found small bats. Grafe enlisted the help of Caroline and Michael
Schöner from the University of Greifswald, a wife-
and-husband team who had worked on bats.
Together, they repeatedly found the same species
—Hardwicke’s woolly bat—roosting inside the
plants, and nowhere else. In some cases, youngsters snuggled next to their parents. The plant had adapted to accommodate these
tenants: that’s why their pitchers are roomier than
average, and have little fluid. And the bats repay
them with faeces. Bat poo—guano—is rich in
nitrogen, and the team found that this provides
the pitcher with a third of its supply. The carnivorous plant has largely abandoned its
insect-killing ways and now makes a living as a
bat landlord. The team found that the back wall of
N.hemsleyana—the bit that connects its lid to its
main chamber—is unusually wide, elongated,
and curved. It’s like a parabolic dish. It strongly
reflects incoming ultrasound in the direction it
came from, and over a large area. Other pitcher plants that live in the same habitat don’t have this
structure. Instead, their back walls reflect
incoming calls off to the sides. So, as the woolly
bats pepper the forest with high-pitched squeaks,
the echoes from N.hemsleyana should stand out
like a beacon.

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