This time of year, many in the country are watching warily as pollen floats far and wide on the wind, enabling plants to reproduce but also causing sneezes and watery eyes.
But a new study out of the University of Connecticut demonstrates for the first time how some plants travel not just across the backyard, but as far as from Northern to Southern hemispheres on the wings of migratory birds.
The findings, published in the online journal PeerJ, offer critical insight into the ecology and evolution of plants that are represented across both continents of the Americas.
Led by Lily Lewis, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the study found 23 regenerative plant diaspores – plant seeds or spores – trapped in the feathers of migratory birds leaving the Arctic harbor for South America.
“Scientists have always assumed that birds might be responsible for dispersing the seeds,” says Emily Behling ’15 (CLAS), a UConn undergraduate who contributed to the study. “But this bugged Lily. She wanted to know what was really going on.”
Although wind is the primary means for long-distance dispersal of diaspores around the world, it is an unlikely candidate for explaining distribution between the hemispheres. Yet previous evidence of birds dispersing plant seeds or spores across the tropics had been only circumstantial.
The researchers studied American golden plovers, semipalmated sandpipers, and red phalaropes – all birds that breed in coastal tundra. Many of the plant parts found in their feathers belonged to mosses, which are especially hardy plants and often need only one dispersal event to establish in a new place, says Lewis.
The behavior of these migrant birds in their northern breeding grounds likely promotes their inadvertent acquisition of diaspores, according to the study. Shallow nests are constructed by scraping depressions into the ground with breast, feet, and beaks, and are commonly lined with plant materials.
The timing of molt and migratory behavior also increases the likelihood of attached diaspores being dispersed across the birds’ migratory range.
The post-migratory molt and terrestrial destinations of American golden plovers and semipalmated sandpipers are compatible with the requirements for dispersal across the equator. The majority of migratory shorebirds with non-breeding grounds in the Southern Hemisphere provide similar opportunities for diaspore dispersal, with the molt typically occurring on the southern non-breeding grounds.
Funding for the research came from University of Connecticut Katie Bu Memorial Fund, a Switzer Environmental Fellowship awarded to Lewis, and the National Science Foundation.
This summer, Behling will present the study findings at the national Evolution 2014 conference in North Carolina.
Behling also plans to continue the research by examining the DNA of the plant particles found in the feathers to learn more about the plants that are being dispersed by the migratory birds.
Colin Poitras | Eurek Alert!
Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg
Transparent electronics devices are present in today’s thin film displays, solar cells, and touchscreens. The future will bring flexible versions of such devices. Their production requires printable materials that are transparent and remain highly conductive even when deformed. Researchers at INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials have combined a new self-assembling nano ink with an imprint process to create flexible conductive grids with a resolution below one micrometer.
To print the grids, an ink of gold nanowires is applied to a substrate. A structured stamp is pressed on the substrate and forces the ink into a pattern. “The...
A new Fraunhofer MEVIS method conveys medical interrelationships quickly and intuitively with innovative visualization technology
On the monitor, a brain spins slowly and can be examined from every angle. Suddenly, some sections start glowing, first on the side and then the entire back of...
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Ames Laboratory have discovered an unusual property of purple bronze that may point to new ways to achieve high temperature superconductivity.
While studying purple bronze, a molybdenum oxide, researchers discovered an unconventional charge density wave on its surface.
Munich Physicists have developed a novel electron microscope that can visualize electromagnetic fields oscillating at frequencies of billions of cycles per second.
Temporally varying electromagnetic fields are the driving force behind the whole of electronics. Their polarities can change at mind-bogglingly fast rates, and...
Breakup of continents with two speed: Continents initially stretch very slowly along the future splitting zone, but then move apart very quickly before the onset of rupture. The final speed can be up to 20 times faster than in the first, slow extension phase.phases
Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. Derived from Pangaea’s main fragments Gondwana...
15.07.2016 | Event News
15.07.2016 | Event News
11.07.2016 | Event News
28.07.2016 | Information Technology
28.07.2016 | Materials Sciences
28.07.2016 | Earth Sciences