Celebrated in Buddhist temples and cultivated for its wood and cottony fibers, the kapok tree now is upsetting an idea that biologists have clung to for decades: the notion that African and South American rainforests are similar because the continents were connected 96 million years ago.
Research by University of Michigan evolutionary ecologist Christopher Dick and colleagues shows that kapok---and perhaps other rainforest--trees colonized Africa after the continents split when the trees' seeds traveled across the ocean.
The findings, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), appear online this week in the journal Molecular Ecology.
"This research provides vital information for one of the most highly threatened areas of the planet, tropical rainforests," said Sam Scheiner, program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research. "In order to plan for and mitigate global climate change, we need to understand the history of life on Earth through studies like this one."
Oceanic dispersal links the world's rainforests, said Dick, "and this study is one of the first to catch that process in action at the species level. Although single seeds are very unlikely to survive an oceanic voyage and then successfully become established elsewhere, such improbable events become probable over 10 to 15 million years."
Dick studied the rainforest form of Ceiba pentandra, a species of kapok that grows taller than a 16-story building, its head poking above the forest canopy.
Its flowers produce more than 50 gallons of nectar per tree in a season, attracting bats that travel as far as 12 miles between trees and transfer pollen in the process. When the seed pods ripen, they break open to reveal fluffy fibers that are used to stuff pillows and mattresses. The seeds, which are about the size of a sunflower seed, are buoyant and able to float down rivers along which the colossal trees grow.
Dick and colleagues investigated which of several possible scenarios could be the reason for the current distribution of Ceiba pentandra.
Dick concluded that extreme long distance travel by wind or ocean currents explains how the trees spread from South America to Africa. He plans to continue investigating the role of oceanic dispersal to see if the same is true for other species and for entire plant communities.
"This tree has become locally extinct in parts of the Peruvian Amazon as a result of overexploitation for plywood," Dick said. "It might be saved from widespread extinction by continuing to invade new land areas through oceanic dispersal."
Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine