A Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) research on the relationship between insectivorous bats and carnivorous pitcher plants in Borneo has been featured in the Cell Press journal, Current Biology, today. The research was led by Professor Dr Ulmar Grafe, assisted by UBD graduate in Biological Sciences and BruWILD president, Lin Ji Liaw, along with international collaborators – Michael and Caroline Schöner, and Professor Dr Gerald Kerth of Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University of Greifswald, and Dr Ralph Simon from University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany.
The research showed that the pitcher plants and bats share an intriguing reciprocal relationship where the plants offer the bats a cool place to roost free from parasites and other competition, while the bats keep the plants well-fertilised with their droppings. It was found that the plants have special structures that act as acoustic reflectors to reflect the bats’ ultrasonic calls back to them. Such adaptation of the plants eases the bats’ search for their plant partners in the cluttered forest.
The study began with Prof Ulmar Grafe’s discovery of bats roosting inside pitcher plants. He and his team of researchers began exploring the relationship between the two. Their findings—that the carnivorous plants offer bats a place to roost in return for their nitrogen-rich droppings— helped to explain something that had vexed pitcher plant researchers: those plants, Nepenthes hemsleyana, are rather poor compared to their relatives at attracting insects.
Both being relatively rare species, it has been a mystery to researchers how N. hemsleyana and the bats, Kerivoula hardwickii, find each other in their crowded habitats. Upon further inspection, the study revealed that the back wall of the pitcher plants is formed like a parabolic dish, which helps reflect ultrasonic calls back to the bats.
Behavioral experiments showed that the bats respond to those sounds echoed back to them from the plants. Bats were better at finding partially hidden pitcher plants when their reflectors were intact. The bats also more often chose unmodified pitcher plants as the best places to roost.
This research publication in Current Biology journal represents a significant achievement for UBD in terms of its international scientific impact. Current Biology is widely valued among life scientists for its unique blend of important research papers and informed, lively commentary. According to Thompson Reuters Journal Citations Report, the journal was rated to have a five-year impact factor of 10.134 in 2014.
UBD’s Institute for Biodiversity and Environmental Research (IBER) and the Faculty of Science (FOS) have provided the outstanding framework of a discovery-based science curriculum that has allowed Lin Ji Liaw and other students to participate and contribute to such high-impact research. Brunei Darussalam, being strategically located in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots has attracted international researchers to collaborate with scientists in UBD to make important discoveries and conduct innovative research.
Through its international network, the university encourages its students and researchers to expand their knowledge by collaborating with and learning from researchers from around the world. UBD aims to nurture its students to become influential individuals who will not only live the future, but build it for a better economy.
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