Freeloading orchid relies on mushrooms above and below ground

March 22, 2018

The non-photosynthesizing orchid species Gastrodia pubilabiata mimics rotting mushrooms or fermented fruit, and is pollinated by fruit flies who mistakenly lay their eggs in its flowers. If there are rotting mushrooms near the orchid, its pollination rate increases. As well as using mushrooms to attract insect pollinators, G. pubilabiata survives by absorbing nutrients from the fungal hyphae of mushrooms. This is the first time a plant has been discovered to depend on mushrooms both above and below ground.

The research findings, made by Project Associate Professor SUETSUGU Kenji (Kobe University Graduate School of Science) were published in Ecology on March 23.

Over 90% of flowering plants use animals to help them pollinate. In most cases the animals are rewarded with pollen or honey - it's a win-win situation. However, some plants trick insects into bringing them pollen without providing any compensation. G. pubilabiata, by emitting a smell of fermented fruit and rotting mushrooms, advertises itself as a good brood site for fruit flies. The fruit flies pollinate the plant by laying eggs there and visiting their brood. However, G. pubilabiata does not have anything the young fruit flies can eat, so they die soon after hatching.

When plants like this disguise themselves by mimicking other species, if the species they are mimicking grow nearby, insects may mistakenly visit the "fake" copy of the plant. Professor Suetsugu compared the reproductive success rate of G. pubilabiata with and without rotting mushrooms beside them (the model for their disguise). The results showed that with rotting mushrooms beside it, the pollination rate for G. pubilabiata rose significantly.

G. pubilabiata has another interesting trait: instead of engaging in photosynthesis, it lives on nutrients from fungal hyphae of the mushrooms. In other words, this plant survives on nutrients taken underground from mushrooms, and also uses mushrooms to attract pollinating insects. This is the first time a plant has been revealed that relies on mushrooms both above and below ground.

Plants that have abandoned photosynthesis can survive in environments where sunlight does not reach, giving them an advantage over potential competitors. However, in these environments they probably cannot rely on typical pollinators such as bees and butterflies for pollination, because both bees and butterflies prefer areas of high light intensity. In order to take nutrients from mushrooms, they live on the dark forest floor. Therefore, their lifestyle inhabiting the dark understory may influence the pollination biology of these achlorophyllous plants.

Fruit flies also use rotten fruit as brood sites, so G. pubilabiata could potentially increase their reproductive rate in the vicinity of fermentedfruit. Professor Suetsugu will continue these surveys to shed light on the changes that take place when plants abandon photosynthesis.
-end-


Kobe University

Related Photosynthesis Articles from Brightsurf:

During COVID, scientists turn to computers to understand C4 photosynthesis
When COVID closed down their lab, a team from the University of Essex turned to computational approaches to understand what makes some plants better adapted to transform light and carbon dioxide into yield through photosynthesis.

E. coli bacteria offer path to improving photosynthesis
Cornell University scientists have engineered a key plant enzyme and introduced it in Escherichia coli bacteria in order to create an optimal experimental environment for studying how to speed up photosynthesis, a holy grail for improving crop yields.

Showtime for photosynthesis
Using a unique combination of nanoscale imaging and chemical analysis, an international team of researchers has revealed a key step in the molecular mechanism behind the water splitting reaction of photosynthesis, a finding that could help inform the design of renewable energy technology.

Photosynthesis in a droplet
Researchers develop an artificial chloroplast.

Even bacteria need their space: Squished cells may shut down photosynthesis
Introverts take heart: When cells, like some people, get too squished, they can go into defense mode, even shutting down photosynthesis.

Marine cyanobacteria do not survive solely on photosynthesis
The University of Cordoba published a study in a journal from the Nature group that supports the idea that marine cyanobacteria also incorporate organic compounds from the environment.

Photosynthesis -- living laboratories
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich biologists Marcel Dann and Dario Leister have demonstrated for the first time that cyanobacteria and plants employ similar mechanisms and key proteins to regulate cyclic electron flow during photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis seen in a new light by rapid X-ray pulses
In a new study, led by Petra Fromme and Nadia Zatsepin at the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery, the School of Molecular Sciences and the Department of Physics at ASU, researchers investigated the structure of Photosystem I (PSI) with ultrashort X-ray pulses at the European X-ray Free Electron Laser (EuXFEL), located in Hamburg, Germany.

Photosynthesis olympics: can the best wheat varieties be even better?
Scientists have put elite wheat varieties through a sort of 'Photosynthesis Olympics' to find which varieties have the best performing photosynthesis.

Strange bacteria hint at ancient origin of photosynthesis
Structures inside rare bacteria are similar to those that power photosynthesis in plants today, suggesting the process is older than assumed.

Read More: Photosynthesis News and Photosynthesis Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.