Pitcher Plants Provide Shelter for Bats in Exchange for their Poop

posted: 07/13/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Tropical pitcher plant

In Borneo, a relatively rare species of pitcher plant has an interesting symbiotic relationship with the local bat population.

Bats take up residence within the pitcher plants, which offer respite from harmful parasites in the forest and other competitive bats. For the plants, the bats offer their nitrogen-rich poop, which keeps the plants nourished.

But how exactly do the two uncommon species locate their counterparts in the crowded forest? Thanks to specialized acoustic reflector structures, the pitcher plants are able send bats' ultrasonic calls back to their source, thus enabling the bats to more easily locate them.

"With these structures, the plants are able to acoustically stand out from their environments so that bats can easily find them," explains Michael Schoner of Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University of Greifswald. "Moreover, the bats are clearly able to distinguish their plant partner from other plants that are similar in shape but lack the conspicuous reflector."

Similar reflective structures have also been observed in some species of neotropical flowers that are dependent upon nectar-feeding bats for pollination.

Click here for more information about the study, "Bats Are Acoustically Attracted to Mutualistic Carnivorous Plants"

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