Cloud forest hydrologic adaptations
Trees that drink through their leaves!

Cloud forests are (sub)tropical evergreen montane forests that are characterized by low-lying cloud cover. Many have abundant mosses hanging from the trees and cover the terrestrial vegetation below. They have a distinct wet and dry season, receiving > 500mm of rainfall annually. Cloud forests can be found between 500m-4000m elevation depending on local climate and latitude. 

A new study by Greg Goldsmith; a graduate student from UC Berkeley, found that trees in cloud forests are absorbing the water that condenses on their leaves from low-lying clouds as a form of hydration during the dry season. Goldsmith and his colleagues set up moisture detectors (shaped as leaves) to detect patterns of leaf wetness in the cloud forests of Monteverde, Costa Rica. They also installed sensors on the branches and leaves to determine how much, if any water was entering the leaves and traveling through the plant. Goldsmith found that water entered the leaves, and moved down toward the trunk, likely occurring most often during times of low precipitation (dry season).

This study was an extension of a project conducted by his advisor; Todd Dawson, who observed a similar adaptation in California Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). 

-Greg Aegis

P.S. The Monteverde region of Costa Rica is a unique and beautiful part of the planet that I was fortunate enough to visit on a conservation trip. Monteverde is known as the “conservation capital” of the world, with programs focused on the protection and enhancement of the biodiversity of its cloud forests. The region also produces some delicious shade-grown coffee. Check out the sites below for more information. Enjoy!

Sources/Further Reading
-http://www.livescience.com/25520-how-thirsty-trees-drink-cloud-water.html
-http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/greg-goldsmith/
-http://www.monteverdeinfo.com/monteverdes-cloud-forests.html

Monteverde Conservation Information
-http://www.monteverdeinfo.com/monteverde_conservation_league.htm
-http://www.monteverde.org/

Monteverde Coffee 
-http://www.monteverdeinfo.com/cafe-monteverde-coffee-tour/
-http://www.monteverdehomestay.com/Tour%20de%20Cafe.htm
-http://www.thrivefarmers.com/thrivestore/monteverde-1/

Photo - misty penas blancas valley, monteverde cloud forest reserve, costa rica
http://www.phombo.com/

Nature's Radar


Are you sitting down? You may want to before you read this. The relationship I am about to tell you about is pretty amazing. Coevolution is never a dull topic and the following example may be one of the coolest in the living world. 

Meet Marcgravia evenia. This vining plant species is native to Cuba and, like other members of its genus, relies on bats for pollination. This is nothing new. Many plant species utilize bats as pollen vectors. Bat pollinated flowers are often quite fragrant, using powerful odors to tap into the bats keen sense of smell. Marcgravia evenia is different though. This tropical vine taps into another batty sense, echolocation. 

Right above the flowers is a dish-shaped leaf. This leaf functions as a reflector for the bats sonar! Indeed, when tested, bats were twice as likely to find plants with these dish-shaped leaves than they were if the leaves were removed. This is an incredible coevolutionary adaptation! Because the vines are rare in the wild, anything that would increase the likelihood of a bat visitation would incur a considerable selective advantage. The dish-shaped leaves do just that. According to the authors of the paper, “the leaf’s echoes fulfilled requirements for an effective beacon, that is, they were strong, multidirectional, and had a recognizable invariant echo signature.” Nature never fails to amaze!

www.indefenseofplants.com

Photo Credit: Ralph Simon

Further Reading:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6042/631

On the trail of the first dogs to put their paws in the Americas

"Humans began migrating to the Americas roughly 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. But domesticated canines likely didn’t show up on American continents until 10,000 years ago, long after humans first arrived, according to a new analysis of ancient dog DNA by University of Illinois researchers. Their findings were published in the Journal of Human Evolution.”

Read more from the guardian.

2

More bat-pitcher plant madness! While researching the symbiosis between the tropical pitcher plant Nepenthes hemsleyana and it’s bat-symbiotes, I stumbled upon Merlin Tuttle’s website. He is an incredible bat scientists and photographer. Here is an excerpt from an article of his that fascianted me:

Our captive Hardwicke’s woolly bats (Kerivoula hardwickii) preferred pitchers of bat-adapted Nepenthes hemsleyana  plants (see previous blogs), and all woolly bats radio-tracked by Michael and Caroline Schöner in their primary study area consistently returned to the preferred N. hemsleyana pitchers. However the Schöners also found woolly bats in other kinds of plants. Even in their study area they occasionally found an apparently desperate bat roosting in fanged pitcher plants (Nepenthes bicalcarata). This amazing plant relies on a pair of sharp, fang-like, nectar-producing structures above its entrance to facilitate capture of ants that climb down to reach nectar. Approaching ants lose their footing near the tips of the narrowing “fangs,” falling into the water-filled pitchers. Bats can use these pitchers only if they are first drained.  This requires a drain hole near the base. No one yet knows whether these holes are made by inventive woolly bats short on alternative shelter or by birds or other animals, perhaps seeking a meal of captured insects.

At other locations, where the bat-adapted N. hemsleyana plants are not available, the Schöners also found woolly bats roosting in yet a third kind of pitcher plant (Nepenthes ampullaria), as well as in the unfurling leaves of wild ginger plants (Alpinia sp?). This raises an interesting question. Are similar bats, using different kinds of roosts actually cryptic, but distinct species yet to be discovered? Genetic analyses currently being carried out by the Schöners may reveal fascinating surprises.

Pitchers of N. ampullaria are clearly not well adapted for bats. Like those of  N. bicalcarata, they must be  punctured and drained of water before bats can even consider attempting to roost in them. Also, they do not provide a protective lid or operculum that would help shield bats from rain or predator detection. This plant has largely moved away from carnivory and now acquires much of its nutrients from capturing leaf litter that falls to the forest floor, though it still provides a spiny-looking “ladder” to help climbing insects enter. Unlike N. bicalcarata, it rarely has nectar glands for attracting  them. By comparison with these two species, N. hemsleyana pitchers, which now rely on nitrogen from bat droppings, are seven times less efficient than related species at trapping insects and seldom obtain energy from falling leaf litter.

Talk about fascinating! Nature never ceases to amaze.

Full article: http://www.merlintuttle.com/2014/09/09/fanged-pitcher-plants-shelters/

(http://www.merlintuttle.com/)

Help make a difference in science!  This is my friend Maria’s campaign to fund her research on the evolution of the red-eyed treefrog in Costa Rica.  Even a dollar gets her one step closer to funding this important work. 

Any followers of mine that donates any amount will receive a public thank you to my over 165k loyal readership (just message me).   Thank you for continued support of women in science. 

Prehistoric teeth found in China may point to mysterious new human species

The more research that is done into the prehistoric origins of humans, the more crowded it gets. According to a new study, 60,000 to 120,000 years ago there may have existed a mysterious people who do not fall under the categories of either Neanderthals, Denisovans, or modern humans. Do scientists have an entirely new human species on their hands?

Read more … 

I find myself like, in awe of the miracle of existing, the miracle of consciousness, it makes no sense to me; the fact that we’re here, that I’m separate from people, that I’m experiencing this, like, for me, it’s so much more beautiful, what I hope… My curiousness is the hope that this is all natural, that all this checks out. The idea that we’d have to skip steps, the idea that at the end of the day the numbers don’t add up, that you need magic or you need something… Is so much less magical than the fact that this is all just working naturally and it all checks out and this system does, at the end of the day, make sense naturally. That… That is the most awe inspiring, beautiful, possible solution and ending to me. The fact that, really what happens is you have hydrogen and it’s starched and explodes and then you have fucking people, like, if that really does… If all the math checks out at the end of the day, that would make me happy.
—  Bo Burnham — “Do you find yourself spiritually curious?”