Related BBC sites

Page last updated at 00:46 GMT, Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Bats in Borneo roost in carnivorous pitcher plants
By Ella Davies
Earth News reporter

Kerivoula hardwickii and Nepenthes rafflesiana elongata (c) Holger Bohn

Bats in Borneo have been found roosting in carnivorous pitcher plants.

A new study reveals that the plants benefit from nutrients in the bats' droppings.

This unusual living arrangement is apparently beneficial for the bats too as they can shelter unseen inside the plants' pitchers.

Although tree shrews have also been observed using pitcher plants as toilets, this is the first time mammals have been found living inside them.

Nepenthes carnivorous pitcher plants grow in nutrient-poor soil and rely on trapping insects to acquire enough nitrogen for growth.

Found in the peat swamps and heath forest of Borneo, N. rafflesiana elongata are remarkable for their long aerial pitchers.

However, research has previously suggested that N. r. elongata catch up to seven times less insects than other pitcher plants in Borneo.

The pitcher plant benefits from attracting the bat because the bats defecate into the pitcher, using it as a toilet
Dr Ulmar Grafe

In a new study, published in the journal Biology Letters, scientists found that the unique subspecies had a extraordinary relationship with mammals.

Dr Ulmar Grafe and his team investigated how the plants supplemented their nitrogen intake and were surprised to find woolly bats inside the pitchers.

"It was totally unexpected to find bats roosting in the pitchers consistently," says Dr Grafe.

The small Hardwicke's woolly bats (Kerivoula hardwickii) were found roosting above the digestive fluids in the plants' pitchers.

Rather than consuming the whole bat for extra nitrogen, Dr Grafe found that the plants gained from the bats' waste.

Kerivoula hardwickii and Nepenthes rafflesiana elongata (c) Ulmar Grafe
The darker shadow in this pitcher is a roosting bat

"The pitcher plant benefits from attracting the bat because the bats defecate into the pitcher, using it as a toilet if you will," he explains.

This unusual arrangement also has advantages for the bat according to Dr Grafe.

"The bat benefits from having a secure roosting place that is also free of blood-sucking ectoparasites that often accumulate in bat roosts," he tells the BBC.

Last year, researchers observed tree shrews using another type of pitcher plant (Nepenthes rajah) as a toilet and likewise found that the plant benefited from nitrogen in the deposits.

However, this is the first time mammals have been found living inside carnivorous plants.

Dr Grafe points to these findings as evidence that biodiversity is key to protecting the planet's wildlife.

"This is one of many animal-plant mutualisms... that highlights the fact that extinction or removal of a single species within an ecosystem will impact many other species," he says.



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO IN EARTH NEWS
The decade's top ten new species
12 Dec 10 |  Earth News
Huge meat-eater plant prefers poo
10 Mar 10 |  Earth News
Venus flytrap origins uncovered
20 Jul 09 |  Earth News
Attenborough's flesh-eating plant
18 Aug 09 |  Today
Pitcher plants In Pictures
11 Aug 09 |  Earth News
Giant 'meat-eating' plant found
11 Aug 09 |  Earth News

OTHER RELATED BBC LINKS

FROM OTHER SITES

MOST POPULAR STORIES

From Science/Environment in the past week

  • THURSDAY :
  • WEDNESDAY :
  • TUESDAY :

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific