How carnivorous Venus flytrap plants feed


This video says about itself:

Best Venus Flytrap Trapping Compilation 2018

Footage from the last 12 months, featuring everything from small flies to snails and mealworms getting trapped.

From the University of Freiburg in Germany:

Venus flytrap snapping mechanisms virtually captured

Biomechanical analyses and computer simulations reveal the Venus flytrap snapping mechanisms

June 23, 2020

Summary: The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) takes only 100 milliseconds to trap its prey. Once their leaves, which have been transformed into snap traps, have closed, insects can no longer escape. Using biomechanical experiments and virtual Venus flytraps a team has analyzed in detail how the lobes of the trap move.

Freiburg biologists Dr. Anna Westermeier, Max Mylo, Prof. Dr. Thomas Speck and Dr. Simon Poppinga and Stuttgart structural engineer Renate Sachse and Prof. Dr. Manfred Bischoff show that the trap of the carnivorous plant is under mechanical prestress. In addition, its three tissue layers of each lobe have to deform according to a special pattern. The team has published its results in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.

The diet of the Venus flytrap consists mainly of crawling insects. When the animals touch the sensory hairs inside the trap twice within about 20 seconds it snaps shut. Aspects such as how the trap perceives its prey and how it differentiates potential prey from a raindrop falling into the trap were already well known to scientists. However, the precise morphing process of the halves of the trap remained largely unknown.

In order to gain a better understanding of these processes, the researchers have analyzed the interior and exterior surfaces of the trap using digital 3D image correlation methods. Scientists typically use these methods for the examination of technical materials. Using the results the team then constructed several virtual traps in a finite element simulation that differ in their tissue layer setups and in the mechanical behavior of the layers.

Only the digital traps that were under prestress displayed the typical snapping. The team confirmed this observation with dehydration tests on real plants: only well-watered traps are able to snap shut quickly and correctly by releasing this prestress. Watering the plant changed the pressure in the cells and with it the behavior of the tissue. In order to close correctly, the traps also had to consist of three layers of tissue: an inner which constricts, an outer which expands, and a neutral middle layer.

Speck and Mylo are members of the Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems (livMatS) cluster of excellence of the University of Freiburg. The Venus flytrap serves there as a model for a biomimetic demonstrator made of artificial materials being developed by researchers at the cluster. The scientists use it to test the potential uses of materials systems that have life-like characteristics: the systems adapt to changes in the environment and harvest the necessary energy from this environment.

Pacific eelgrass improves wildlife


This May 2018 video from New York state in the USA says about itself:

A planting system that CCE Marine Program Eelgrass team devised to release eelgrass seeds into new eelgrass sites. This system was created to efficiently distribute eelgrass seeds and reduce labor and time.

From the University of Washington in the USA:

Puget Sound eelgrass beds create a ‘halo’ with fewer harmful algae, new method shows

June 24, 2020

Eelgrass, a species of seagrass named for its long slippery texture, is one of nature’s superheroes. It offers shade and camouflage for young fish, helps anchor shorelines, and provides food and habitat for many marine species.

A University of Washington study adds one more superpower to the list of eelgrass abilities: warding off the toxin-producing algae that regularly close beaches to shellfish harvests. Researchers found evidence that there are significantly fewer of the single-celled algae that produce harmful toxins in an area more than 45 feet, or 15 meters, around an eelgrass bed.

“We’re not in the laboratory. The effect we’re seeing is happening in nature, and it’s an effect that’s really widespread within this group of harmful algae. What we see is this halo of reduced abundance around the eelgrass beds,” said Emily Jacobs-Palmer, a research scientist at the UW. She is the lead author of the study published this spring in the open-access journal PeerJ.

Researchers sampled five coastal sites three times in the spring and summer of 2017. Four sites were within Puget Sound and one was in Willapa Bay, on Washington’s outer coast.

In addition to a traditional visual ecological survey at each site, the researchers used a type of genetic forensics to detect species that might not be easily seen or present at the time of the survey.

Scientists put on waders and walked parallel to shore in water less than knee deep while scooping up seawater samples to analyze the environmental DNA, or eDNA, present. This method collects fragments of genetic material to identify organisms living in the seawater.

The researchers sampled water from each site at the same point in the tidal cycle both inside the eelgrass bed and at regular intervals up to 45 feet away from the edge. For comparison they also surveyed a location farther away over bare seabed.

“In the DNA fragments we saw everything from shellfish to marine worms, osprey, bugs that fell in the water,” Jacobs-Palmer said. “It’s quite fascinating to just get this potpourri of organisms and then look for patterns, rather than deciding on a pattern that we think should be there and then looking for that.”

The researchers analyzed the eDNA results to find trends among 13 major groups of organisms. They discovered that dinoflagellates, a broad class of single-celled organism, were scarcer in and around the eelgrass beds than in surrounding waters with bare seabed.

“We were asking how the biological community changes inside eelgrass beds, and this result was so strong that it jumped out at us, even though we weren’t looking for it specifically,” said senior author Ryan Kelly, a UW associate professor of marine and environmental affairs.

The result has practical applications, since certain species of dinoflagellate populations can spike and produce toxins that accumulate in shellfish, making the shellfish dangerous or even deadly to eat.

The phrase “harmful algal bloom” has a formal definition that was not measured for this study. But authors say the trend appeared when the overall dinoflagellate populations were high.

“I have heard people talk about a trade-off between shellfish and eelgrass, in terms of land use in Puget Sound. Now, from our perspective, there’s not a clean trade-off between those things — these systems might be able to complement one another,” Kelly said.

To explore the reasons for the result, the authors looked at differences in water chemistry or current motion around the bed. But neither could explain why dinoflagellate populations were lower around the eelgrass.

Instead, the authors hypothesize that the same biological reasons why dinoflagellates don’t flourish inside eelgrass beds — likely bacteria that occur with eelgrass and are harmful to dinoflagellates — may extend past the bed’s edge.

“It was known that there is some antagonistic relationship between eelgrass and algae, but it’s really important that this effect seems to span beyond the bounds of the bed itself,” Jacobs-Palmer said.

The discovery of a “halo effect” by which eelgrass discourages the growth of potentially harmful algae could have applications in shellfish harvesting, ecological restoration or shoreline planning.

“These beds are often really large, and that means that their perimeter is also really large,” Jacobs-Palmer said. “That’s a lot of land where eelgrass is potentially having an effect.”

In follow-up work, researchers chose two of the sites, in Port Gamble on the Kitsap Peninsula and Skokomish on Hood Canal, to conduct weekly sampling from late June through October 2019. They hope to verify the pattern they discovered and learn more about the environmental conditions that might allow the halo to exist.

Prehistoric Norfolk pine relative trees discovered


This 2019 video is called Norfolk Island Pine Care.

From Penn State University in the USA:

New Argentine fossils uncover history of celebrated conifer group

June 18, 2020

Newly unearthed, surprisingly well-preserved conifer fossils from Patagonia, Argentina, show that an endangered and celebrated group of tropical West Pacific trees has roots in the ancient supercontinent that once comprised Australia, Antarctica and South America, according to an international team of researchers.

“The Araucaria genus, which includes the well-known Norfolk Island pine, is unique because it’s so abundant in the fossil record and still living today,” said Gabriella Rossetto-Harris, a doctoral student in geosciences at Penn State and lead author of the study. “Though they can grow up to 180 feet tall, the Norfolk Island pine is also a popular houseplant that you might recognize in a dentist’s office or a restaurant.”

Araucaria grew all around the world starting about 170 million years ago in the Jurassic period. Around the time of the dinosaur extinction 66 million years ago, the conifer became restricted to certain parts of the Southern Hemisphere, said co-author Peter Wilf, professor of geosciences and associate in the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI).

Today, four major groups of Araucaria exist, and the timing of when and where these living lineages evolved is still debated, Rossetto-Harris said. One grows in South America, and the other three are spread across New Caledonia, New Guinea and Australia, including Norfolk Island. Many are now endangered or vulnerable species. The Norfolk pine group, the most diverse with 16 species, is usually thought to have evolved near its modern range in the West Pacific well after the Gondwanan supercontinent split up starting about 50 million years ago, Rossetto-Harris added.

Researchers from Penn State and the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio, Chubut, Argentina, found the fossils at two sites in Patagonia — Río Pichileufú, which has a geologic age of about 47.7 million years, and Laguna del Hunco, with a geologic age of about 52.2 million years. They analyzed the fossil characteristics and compared them to modern species to determine to which living group the fossils belonged. Then they developed a phylogenetic tree to show the relationships between the fossil and living species. They reported their findings in a recent issue of the American Journal of Botany.

Unlike the monkey puzzle trees of the living South American group of Araucaria, which have large, sharp leaves, the Patagonian conifer fossils have small, needle-like leaves and cone remains that closely resemble the Australasian Norfolk Island pine group, according to the researchers. They also found a fossil of a pollen cone attached to the end of a branch, which is also characteristic of the group.

“The new discovery of a fossil pollen cone still attached to a branch is rare and spectacular,” said Rossetto-Harris, who is also an EESI Environmental Scholar. “It allows us to create a more complete picture of what the ancestors of these trees were like.”

The researchers used 56 new fossils from Río Pichileufú to expand the taxonomic description of Araucaria pichileufensis, a species first described in 1938 using only a handful of specimens.

“Historically, scientists have lumped together the Araucaria fossils found at Río Pichileufú and Laguna del Hunco as the same species,” Rossetto-Harris said. “The study shows, for the first time, that although both species belong to the Norfolk pine group of Araucaria, there is a difference in conifer species between the two sites.”

The researchers named the new species from Laguna del Hunco Araucaria huncoensis, for the site where it was found. The fossils are about 30 million years older than many estimates for when the Australasian lineage evolved, according to Rossetto-Harris.

The findings suggest that 52 million years ago, before South America completely separated from Antarctica, and during the first few million years after separation was underway, relatives of Norfolk Island pines were part of a rainforest that stretched across Australasia and Antarctica and up into Patagonia, said Rossetto-Harris.

The change in the Araucaria species from the older Laguna del Hunco site to the younger Río Pichileufú site may be a response to the climatic cooling and drying that occurred after South America first became isolated.

“We’re seeing the last bits of these forests before the Drake Passage between Patagonia and Antarctica began to really widen and deepen and set forth a lot of big climatic changes that would eventually cause this version of Araucaria to go extinct in South America, but survive in the Australian rainforest and later spread and thrive in New Caledonia,” Rossetto-Harris said.

The study shows how tiny details can provide the definition needed to reveal big, important stories about the history of life, Wilf added.

The National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, Botanical Society of America, Geological Society of America, and Penn State provided funding for this project.

Devonian ancient plant discovery in Australia


Keraphyton mawsoniae: (A) specimen before preparation; (B) general view of stem showing the 4 rib systems (Ia, Ib, IIa and IIb); (C) central segment and four fundamental ribs; (D) rib system Ib showing a short branch dividing into two equal ultimate ribs at right and a long branch producing at least three long ultimate ribs at left; (E) long branch of rib system IIa producing short ultimate ribs; (F) short branch of rib system IIa dividing into two ultimate ribs; (G) long branch of rib system IIb producing short ultimate ribs; (H) long branch of rib system Ia producing long, but broken, ultimate ribs. Abbreviations: cs – central segment, fr – fundamental rib, ic – inner cortex, oc – outer cortex, Lb – long branch, sb – short branch. Yellow arrowheads indicate ultimate ribs. (DH) are all oriented with the cortex of the axis towards the top of the photo. Scale bars – 500 μm, (B) – 2 mm. Image credit: Champreux et al, doi: 10.7717/peerj.9321

From Flinders University in Australia:

Australian fossil reveals new plant species

June 16, 2020

Summary: Fresh examination of an Australian fossil — believed to be among the earliest plants on Earth — has revealed evidence of a new plant species that existed in Australia more than 359 Million years ago.

Antoine Champreux, a PhD student in the Global Ecology Lab at Flinders University, has catalogued the discovery of the new fern-like plant species as part of an international effort to examine the Australian fossil in greater detail.

The fossil was found in the 1960s by amateur geologist Mr John Irving, on the bank of the Manilla River in Barraba, New South Wales. The fossil was exposed after major flooding events in 1964, and Mr Irving gave the fossil to the geological survey of New South Wales, where it remained for more than 50 years without being studied.

It was dated from the end of the Late Devonian period, approximately 372-to-359 million years ago — a time when Australia was part of the Southern hemisphere super-continent Gondwana. Plants and animals had just started to colonise continents, and the first trees appeared. Yet while diverse fish species were in the oceans, continents had no flowering plants, no mammals, no dinosaurs, and the first plants had just acquired proper leaves and the earliest types of seeds.

Well-preserved fossils from this era are rare — elevating the significance of the Barraba plant fossil.

The fossil is currently in France, where Brigitte Meyer-Berthaud, an international expert studying the first plants on Earth, leads a team at the French laboratory of Botany and Modelling of Plant Architecture and Vegetation (AMAP) in Montpellier. This French laboratory is particularly interested in further examination of Australian fossils from the Devonian-Carboniferous geological period, to build a more detailed understanding of plant evolution during this era.

Mr Champreux studied the fern-like fossil during his master’s degree internship at AMAP and completed writing his research paper during his current PhD studies at Flinders University.

“It’s nothing much to look at — just a fossilised stick — but it’s far more interesting once we cut it and had a look inside,” says Mr Champreux. “The anatomy is preserved, meaning that we can still observe the walls of million-year-old cells. We compared the plant with other plants from the same period based on its anatomy only, which provide a lot of information.”

He found that this plant represents a new species, and even a new genus of plant, sharing some similarities with modern ferns and horsetails.

“It is an extraordinary discovery, since such exquisitely-preserved fossils from this period are extremely rare,” he says. “We named the genus Keraphyton (like the horn plant in Greek), and the species Keraphyton mawsoniae, in honour of our partner Professor Ruth Mawson, a distinguished Australian palaeontologist who died in 2019.”

An article describing the new plant — Keraphyton gen. nov., a new Late Devonian fern-like plant from Australia, by A Champreux, B Meyer-Berthaud and A-L Decombeix — has been published in the scientific journal PeerJ and It reinforces the partnership between the lab AMAP (Montpellier, France) and Flinders University.

Ants as flower pollinators


This 2018 video is about ants pollinating flowers.

From Edith Cowan University in Australia:

Bees? Please. These plants are putting ants to work

June 10, 2020

In a world first, Edith Cowan University (ECU) researchers have discovered a plant that has successfully evolved to use ants — as well as native bees — as pollinating agents by overcoming their antimicrobial defences.

ECU PhD student Nicola Delnevo discovered the trait in a group of shrubs found the Swan Coastal Plain in Western Australia.

Mr Delnevo said ant pollination of plants was incredibly rare.

“Ants secrete an antimicrobial fluid that kills pollen grain,” he said.

“So ants have traditionally been considered to be a menace — nectar thieves whose aggression keeps other potential pollinating insects at bay.

“However this group of plants in WA, commonly known as the Smokebush family (Conospermum), has evolved a way to use ants to their advantage.”

Mr Delnevo tested the effect of the antimicrobial secretion from three ant species found locally on the flowers of six WA plant species, with startling results.

“We found evidence that Conospermum plants have adapted the biochemistry of their pollen grains to cope with the antimicrobial properties of the ants.

“This is the first plant species found to have adapted traits that enables a mutually beneficial relationship with ants,” Mr Delnevo said.

“About 46 examples of ant pollination have been documented around the world, but these have been due to the ants producing less toxic secretions that allow them to pollinate.”

No help from honeybees

Mr Delnevo said the pollination by ants was particularly good news for these plants as they were unable to rely on honeybees.

“Conospermum plants have unscented tubular flowers that are too narrow for honeybees wriggle inside to pollinate,” Mr Delnevo explained.

“They rely on native insects carrying a suitable pollen load from visiting other flowers for pollination to occur.

“They have co-evolved with a native bee (Leioproctus conospermi) that has evolved as a specialist feeder of these flowers.

“This relationship is mutually beneficial, but it would be risky in an evolutionary sense for the plant to rely solely on the native bee for pollination.”

Future research will explore how common ant pollination is amongst the flora of south-western Australia and exactly how this trait of overcoming ant defences has evolved.

Foxglove flowers and cockchafer beetles


Flowers, Gooilust, 8 June 2020

This 8 June 2020 photo shows foxglove flowers in Gooilust nature reserve near Hilversum.

Cockchafer, 8 June 2020

A bit further, there was this beetle.

Cockchafer beetle, 8 June 2020

A cockchafer beetle.

Cockchafer, on 8 June 2020

This species is also called Maybug, though this beetle was still around in June. After the photo session, the beetle flew up to a treetop.

Foxglove flowers, 8 June 2020

Then, once again foxglove flowers.

Stay tuned for more Gooilust photos!

Pinetum plants, birds and tadpoles


This 2017 video is about Pinetum Blijdenstein in Hilversum, the Netherlands. This botanical garden was founded in 1898.

We went there today. In the middle is a pond, called the ‘Mesozoic pond’. Around it, all plants are relatives of plants that already lived during the age of dinosaurs. Like ferns, horsetails and conifers. Flowering plants had just started then. Around the pond is just one flowering plant species, a magnolia. Magnolias are relatives of plants that already lived during the Cretaceous.

In the pond, tadpoles swam.

Sounds of great spotted woodpecker, blackbird and robin. A song thrush sings, another one feeds on a lawn.

Then, we went to the Costerustuin botanical garden.

This 2008 video is about the Costerustuin.

The garden also has a pond; smaller than the pinetum pond and not Mesozoic.

Tadpoles swam, and pondskaters skated on the surface.

A great tit on a tree.

After we left, a blackcap sang.

Restoring wildlife in Ohio, USA


This 25 April 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History preserves and protects over 10,000 acres of native habitats in Northeast Ohio. One of the most important parcels of land in this collection is Mentor Marsh. The once-thriving wetland habitat was destroyed in the 1970s by industrial salt-mine tailings, which allowed the invasive reed grass Phragmites australis to take over.

After years of painstaking work, the Museum’s expert naturalists have begun to win the battle against Phragmites as native wildlife makes its comeback. Learn more about this conservation success from the Museum’s Restoration Ecologist, Dr. David Kriska.

Plant grows perches for birds


This 26 May 2020 video says about itself:

The Plant That Grows Perches for Birds

The rat’s tail plant, or Babiana ringens earns its name for the distinct stem that grows above its flowers. But what’s the purpose of this odd-looking appendage?

Hosted by: Michael Aranda.

This plant species is endemic to South Africa.