Monday, June 12, 2006

Plant Sex

So much that's fascinating about probably any ecosystem is the variety of strategies employed by organisms for reproduction. And of course the alluring details of each species' strategy.

Today was our first walk through the forest... er, I mean the outdoors. We're currently at Las Cruces Biological Station which is the home for the Wilson Botanical Gardens. So this morning we toured the Botanical Gardens. Tomorrow, primary forest.

This was a fascinating walk, however, all on its own. Most of my fellow students are specialized in some taxon or dimension of ecology. Laura, for instance, studies plant breeding systems: plant sex. Much of what we talked about today was reproduction strategies.

By the way, this will be my general format for blog entries: a general description of interesting activities, and a narrow focus on just one of a gazillion concepts or descriptions. And if, by chance, I get something wrong, feel free to use the "comment" link below to correct. After all, I'm here to learn! All that established, here is a bit of what I learned about heliconias and sex.

Heliconias is categorized into those that generally occur on the forest floor and those above and by their leaf shapes. They are pollinated mainly by hummingbirds some of whom have curved beaks co-evolved for particular heliconias flower morphology (cool word: "shape"). Heliconias chooses red for it flowers not so much because hummingbirds like it, but because other pollinators don't. Insects cannot see into the red portion of the spectrum so by choosing red and orange to attract pollinators, heliconias increases its chances of luring a pollinator that recently has or is about to visit a member of the same species. Turns out hummingbirds aren't especially attracted to red, but instead are simply fast learners: try different flowers, find one that works, remember and favor that color.

Here's the view from the room that my roommates and I share at this, the most plush of the OTS biological stations.



At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Greg Nace said...

So good to hear from you Kristin. It seems like you are already having memorable experiences in the tropics. Don't think I told you, but I spent a month there at Las Cruces. I organized a five person internship to help Bob Wilson map and inventory his extensive plant collection. Like the frogs, he saw that there were endangered plants in areas of Costa Rica and Central America and tried to collect them before they were gone. Much of the work was done using his own money. Glad it still exists as an OTS field station.
Have you seen any of the giant
beetles that are about the size of half an orange?