In a treasure hunt through Western Australia’s south-west more than 20 new species of trigger plants have been discovered – small plants that catapult pollen onto visiting insects.
Perth botanist Dr Juliet Wege made her findings whilst researching at the Department of Conservation and Land Management in a study funded by the Australian Biological Resources Study. Juliet has formally named eight new species and is in the process of naming and describing many more. Her work won her a place in Fresh Science 2004, a national initiative to bring the work of early career researchers to public attention. The scientist who best meets the criteria will win a study tour to the UK courtesy of British Council Australia.
Trigger plants (scientifically known as Stylidium) are a diverse group of native herbs that get their name from the ingenious way they use insects to exchange pollen. ‘When an insect visits a flower, a catapult-like trigger flips rapidly through the air and strikes the insect on its body,” explains Juliet. This trigger action is not designed to eat the insect, or to brush it away. It either dusts the insect with pollen, or picks up pollen that the insect is already carrying. “It’s a delightfully cunning way to transfer pollen between flowers, and the insects don’t seem to mind a bit,” Juliet says. “They visit flower after flower only to be whacked time and time again.”
Niall Byrne | alfa
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