Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Tiny plants ride on the coattails of migratory birds: Migrant birds may be virtual dispersal highways for plants

Date:
June 12, 2014
Source:
PeerJ
Summary:
Since the days of Darwin, biologists have questioned why certain plants occur in widely separated places, the farthest reaches of North American and the Southern tip of South America but nowhere in between. How did they get there? Researchers have now found an important piece of the puzzle: migratory birds about to fly to South America from the Arctic harbor small plant parts in their feathers.

Each year 500,000 American golden-plovers (pictured) fly between Arctic N. America and South America with potentially hundreds of thousands of diaspores trapped in their feathers.
Credit: Jean-François Lamarre, CC BY SA

Since the days of Darwin, biologists have questioned why certain plants occur in widely separated places, the farthest reaches of North American and the Southern tip of South America but nowhere in between. How did they get there? An international team of researchers have now found an important piece of the puzzle: migratory birds about to fly to South America from the Arctic harbor small plant parts in their feathers.

Related Articles


In the past several decades, scientists have discovered that the North -- South distributions of certain plants often result from a single jump across the tropics, not as a result of gradual movements or events that occurred over a hundred million years ago. These single jumps across the tropics have led many to speculate that migratory birds play a role, however those claims have remained speculative.

A team of 10 biologists, including three undergraduate students, collected feathers in the field and used microscopes to closely examine them. They found a total of 23 plant fragments that were trapped in the feathers of long-distance migratory birds about to leave for South America.

The fragments were all thought to be able to grow into new plants hence indicating that they could be used to establish new plant populations. Several of the plant parts belonged to mosses, which are exceptionally tough plants. About half of all moss species can self-fertilize to produce offspring, and many can grow as clones. For these plants, it only takes a single successful dispersal event to establish a new population.

Among the researchers working on the project are three students for whom this was the first experience with scientific research.

"We really had no idea what we might find," said Emily Behling, a senior studying biology at the University of Connecticut. "Each feather was like a lottery ticket, and as we got further into the project I was ecstatic about how many times we won."

In addition to mosses, researchers looking at the bird feathers found spores, plant pieces and other things that could help explain the distribution of cyanobacteria, fungi, and algae.

Lily Lewis a PhD candidate at the University of Connecticut explained, "Mosses are especially abundant and diverse in the far Northern and Southern reaches of the Americas, and relative to other types of plants, they commonly occur in both of these regions, yet they have been largely overlooked by scientists studying this extreme distribution. Mosses can help to illuminate the processes that shape global biodiversity."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by PeerJ. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lily R. Lewis, Emily Behling, Hannah Gousse, Emily Qian, Chris S. Elphick, Jean-François Lamarre, Joël Bêty, Joe Liebezeit, Ricardo Rozzi, Bernard Goffinet. First evidence of bryophyte diaspores in the plumage of transequatorial migrant birds. PeerJ, 2014; 2: e424 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.424

Cite This Page:

PeerJ. "Tiny plants ride on the coattails of migratory birds: Migrant birds may be virtual dispersal highways for plants." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140612085339.htm>.
PeerJ. (2014, June 12). Tiny plants ride on the coattails of migratory birds: Migrant birds may be virtual dispersal highways for plants. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140612085339.htm
PeerJ. "Tiny plants ride on the coattails of migratory birds: Migrant birds may be virtual dispersal highways for plants." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140612085339.htm (accessed January 27, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How To: Mixed Green Salad Topped With Camembert Cheese

How To: Mixed Green Salad Topped With Camembert Cheese

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) — Learn how to make a mixed green salad topped with a pan-seared camembert cheese in only a minute! Music: Courtesy of Audio Network. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 26, 2015) — Scientists are preparing a group of water fleas for a unique voyage into space. The aquatic crustaceans, known as Daphnia, can be used as a miniature model for biomedical research, and their reproductive and swimming behaviour will be tested for signs of stress while on board the International Space Station. Jim Drury went to meet the team. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Husky Puppy Plays With Ferret

Husky Puppy Plays With Ferret

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) — It looks like this 2-month-old Husky puppy and the family ferret are going to be the best of friends. Look at how much fun they&apos;re having together! Credit to &apos;Vira&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Model Flying, Walking Drone After Vampire Bats

Scientists Model Flying, Walking Drone After Vampire Bats

Buzz60 (Jan. 26, 2015) — Swiss scientists build a new drone that can both fly and walk, modeling it after the movements of common vampire bats. Jen Markham (@jenmarkham) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:  

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile iPhone Android Web
    Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins