New ethereal plant species don’t use photosynthesis – they’ve found something smoother

Masked by the enchanting shadows of Asian forests, strange growths can be seen among the litter of leaves like ghosts of long-dead flowers.

The plant’s leaves lack the green pigment that photosynthesis has abandoned in favor of an alternative source of nutrients on the forest floor, one of which is stolen from fungi that many other plants consider friends—the symbiotic fungi that bind most forest plants in a vast woody web.

It is found widely across East and Southeast Asia, from the Himalayas to Japan, low monotropastrum; He thought it was one of a kind. Now researchers from Japan and Taiwan have discovered a pink that could be considered a unique species in its own right, one of the species they named Monotropastrum kirishimense.

Extensive xylem networks—incredible networks of fungi and plant roots that stretch across entire forests—serve as highways to deliver nutrients as well as wires to relay information between plants via electrical and chemical signals. These connections help strengthen the forest as a whole, by distributing resources from nutrient-poor to nutrient-rich areas of the network. They also allow plants to warn each other of predators and even help protect them from desiccation.

In exchange for these services, plants pay their fungal allies with some of the hydrocarbons they produce using photosynthesis.

But monotropstrom It betrays this mutualistic relationship by stealing all the nutrients from the fungus, and offering no photosynthetic products to the net in return – making it part of the highly selective fungal feeding club.

New species (top) f m low (bottom). J Factory Precision2022).

The researchers note that the most distinctive feature of the newly described Japanese variant is its glowing pink petals and sepals, but there are other differences as well.

Unlike their cousin m low, the plant’s newly discovered roots barely protrude from the soil. They are also more closely related to one power russula Fungi ratios, while m low It prefers a completely different group of fungi.

Moreover, despite growing side by side, M. kirishimensi The flowering season does not overlap with the season m low, blooms 40 days later than the known species. This study of the interactions of this life cycle and between wildlife and physical forces on Earth such as the seasons is called phenology.

“Our multifaceted evidence leads us to conclude that this taxon is morphologically, phenologically, phylogenetically, and ecologically different, and therefore should be recognized as a separate species,” concluded Kenji Suetsugu, an ecologist at Kobe University, and colleagues in their paper.

“Our study presents the exciting possibility of host transformation M. kirishimensespecific way russula lineage, causing ecological speciation.”

Their different flowering seasons ensure the primary pollinator they share, the bumblebee different bombone species cannot accidentally pollinate another, which prevents crossbreeding.

Many of the world’s forests are threatened and so on monotropstrom The species relies on old-growth forests. These exotic plants are also vulnerable to extinction. M. kirishimense It is rare and researchers suspect it is likely endangered.

The new plant is described in Journal of Plant Research.

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