Tropical plant knows whose bill is in its flowers | Science News

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Tropical plant knows whose bill is in its flowers

Choosy shrub takes pollen only when the right hummingbird comes calling

3:00pm, March 2, 2015
green hermit hummingbird

DESIRABLE DINER  A green hermit hummingbird has a long bill that can sip more nectar than other birds from the tropical plant Heliconia tortuosa, triggering the plant to start reproducing.

Some plants crave a long bird bill. One tropical plant can even recognize which kind of hummingbird is slurping its nectar by the shape of its bill, scientists report online March 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In Heliconia tortuosa, long-billed hummingbirds can reach in and guzzle more nectar than shorter-billed birds, new experiments show, and that prompts the plant to begin reproducing. The plant accepts pollen only from birds with bills that match the shape of its flowers.

The research indicates that “the fine tuning of coevolution between plants and pollinators may be greater than we imagined,” says Ethan Temeles, an ecologist at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

H. tortuosa, an understory plant with slender, red tubelike flowers, is visited by many hummingbird species. Some of the birds have short, straight bills while other

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