mimicry in plants

mimicry in plants

When studying the life sciences, there are a lot of in-depth concepts to take in. Depending on the the type of science you are studying, biology vs. evolution, for example, you may even have to learn a handful of mathematical formulas to fully appreciate the material. Here, we are just having a light-hearted overview of the life sciences, so a light serving of sativa will do just fine.

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Mimicry is the evolved specialization of one organism to look like another, adding to its survival and competitive advantage. It is similar to the concept of convergent evolution, in that two species within the same environment can evolve to have shared characteristics due to similar environmental pressures. 

This tactic is present in numerous kinds of species, including plants. As of recently, not much is known regarding the way mimicry has evolved in plants compared to what is known about animals. However, from what has been discussed in previous literature, there have been discoveries on the multiple ways that plants apply and benefit from mimicry.

The two major forms of defensive mimicry strategies previously discussed in Part I are Müllerian and Batesian mimicry. Müllerian mimicry is when two harmful species display themselves as threatening, while Batesian mimicry is when a nontoxic species appears to be dangerous. Additionally, many plants have also acquired reproductive mimicry where a plant can deceive insects by imitating reproductive parts to attract them and aid in the plant’s reproduction.

ResearchGate

Mimicry in the Defense of Plants

Many organisms make homes out of plants. While this is beneficial to some plants, that is not always the case for others. Host plants can be negatively impacted from the colonization of insects on it. To alleviate the harmful effects, some species developed unique adaptations.

For example, the immature pods of certain plants are similar in shape and design as a caterpillar. This characteristic works in keeping organisms away by giving other insects the impression that the plant is already occupied, redirecting their location of laying their eggs. 

Mimicry is also useful in protecting plants from being consumed. The Xanthium trumairum plant is known for the dark colored dots distributed all throughout its branches and stems. When it sways with the breeze, the illusion of moving ants is given off. Herbivores with previous negatively associated experiences of being stung or bitten by insects seeking food will do their best to avoid these plants.

ResearchGate

Mimicry in the Reproduction of Plants

Plants also benefit from mimicry through their continued reproduction. Orchids are a great example of the many ways this is possible, with over 25,000 diverse types spread across the world. Many species of orchids entice pollinators to visit the flower with no reward of food or reproductive success to pollinating insects. In some species of orchids, there is a region that mimics the reproductive parts of female wasps. Unassuming male wasps become attracted to the region of the flower’s sexual display and pollinate it.

In yet another example, orchids with dark red or red-purple flowers produce a scent similar to rotting flesh. This lures pregnant female blowflies and encourages them to lay their eggs there with the assumption that there will be resources for their offspring to eat upon being hatched. The males are also captivated and they move around the plant accidentally pollinating it during their search of the source of flesh. 

While not much is understood yet regarding the evolutionary mechanisms of mimicry in plants, there is interest towards it. Expanding our knowledge of mimicry to its roles in plants will have many implications for evolutionary biology and ecology, further completing our understanding.


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