Researchers uncover mysteries of rooted plants’ mobility

December 4th, 2008 - 2:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 4 (IANS) The wild pea-pod is big and heavy, with little possibility of escaping the shade of its parent plant.And yet, like a grounded teenager who knows where the car keys are hidden, it manages - if it has a reasonable chance of escape.

University of Florida researchers working at the world’s largest experimental landscape devoted to wildlife corridors - greenways that link woods or other natural areas - have discovered the pea and similar species share, given a clear shot, a mysterious ability for mobility.

Though their seeds are neither dispersed by birds nor borne by the wind, they are nevertheless far more likely to slalom down corridors than slog through woods.

“Corridors surprisingly benefit pretty much everything, including species that have no obvious mechanism for getting around in the first place,” said Doug Levey, a University of Florida professor of zoology and one of six authors of the paper.

Movement is a big challenge for the vast majority of plants, rooted as they are in the ground. Some overcome it by making seeds gobbled by birds, then defecated at points unknown. Other plants have evolved light seeds, or aerodynamically adept ones, designed to be ferried hither and thither in the wind.

But many plants produce seeds with no seeming mode of transport, suggesting, for those species, a measured march rather than a rapid run, according to a university release.

Levey and colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis and North Carolina State University have spent the past eight years studying how corridors affect plants and animals at a massive experimental site at the Savannah River Site National Environmental Research Park on the South Carolina-Georgia state line.

In past papers, they have reported that corridors appear to help both wildlife and plants, especially native species.

In the new paper, the researchers report the results of research aimed at learning how corridors affect plant species with innately different abilities to get around.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the scientists found that wind-borne plants and bird-dispersed plants colonise wildlife habitats connected by corridors more quickly and at farther distances than they do isolated habitats.

The findings will appear this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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