The story of the fig and its wasp

Inside the rounded fruit of a fig tree is a maze of flowers. That is, a fig is not actually a fruit; it is an inflorescence—a cluster of many flowers and seeds contained inside a bulbous stem. Because of this unusual arrangement, the seeds—technically the ovaries of the fig—require a specialized pollinator that is adapted to navigate within these confined quarters. Here begins the story of the relationship between figs and fig wasps....

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The tiny, diligent gardeners of the Amazon

The gardeners described here are not concerned with trimmed topiaries or manicured lawns—though, like designers of landscape gardens, these workers are exceptionally picky. And they have to be if they are going to survive. That is, ants such as Myrmelachista schumanni and Camponotus femoratus of South America depend on certain plants for shelter, and in return, they offer these plants nutrients and protection from predators. As a...

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Every plant for itself: A tale of backstabbing fungi

An ericoid mycorrhizal fungus similar to the ones found in rhododendrons. Mycorrhizae are fungi that form mutually beneficial associations with plant roots. The mutualism works like this: The mycorrhiza grows in and around the plant’s root tissue, and its hyphae, or thread-like vegetative parts, serve plants by branching out in the soil and absorbing nutrients that are of importance to the plant. Since the hyphae are often so...

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Invasive tree disease disrupts pine/bird mutualism

Many trees with large seeds rely on vertebrate seed predators to disperse their seeds. The whitebark pine, a key subalpine species, has coevolved with the Clark’s nutcracker into a tight mutualism.  In their paper in the April Ecological Applications, Shawn McKinney, a post-doc at the University of Montana, and his colleagues studied a natural disruption to this mutualism: an invasive tree fungus. Clark’s nutcrackers feed...

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