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What kind of animal transports the seeds of the world’s smallest fruit-bearing plants?


Balanophora have some of the smallest fruits among angiosperms, leading researchers to question how the seeds of these plants are dispersed. However, very little is currently known about their seed dispersal system. Associate Professor SUETSUGU Kenji (Kobe University Graduate School of Science) documents an unrecognised seed dispersal mutualism between the peculiar, mushroom-like non-photosynthetic plant Balanophora yakushimensis and its avian visitors. The birds obtain nutrients, not from the tiny undernourished fruits, but from the larger fleshy bracts, while B. yakushimensis plants benefit from the seed dispersal. In contrast to well-studied fleshy-fruited plants, the dry-fruited Balanophora species has adopted an avian seed dispersal mutualism through its fleshy bracts, which act as both visual attractants and nutritional rewards. These findings were published on 19 August, 2020 in Ecology. MORE

Header image: Kobe University.