Pollinators are strong drivers of plant evolution. If two plant species do not share pollinators then they can become ‘reproductively isolated’ since pollen (and hence genetic information) cannot pass between them; reproductive isolation is an essential part of the evolution of new species.
In a complex environment, such as the Amazon, it’s really quite difficult to figure out which plant species is pollinated by whom. Because of this, one of the main parts of the work we’re doing in Yasuni involves determining which species pollinate Brownea grandiceps and Brownea jaramilloi. In order to do this, we have been using camera traps to attempt to capture the act of pollination (and hence what animal is responsible for it) on film.
This method is really interesting and great fun, and it’s a wonderful surprise to find out what you’ve caught on film over the past few days. However, camera trapping is not without its’ difficulties. Some of the ever-present problems of camera-trappers include:
- The animals in question are too fast or too tiny to trigger the camera trap’s infrared beam (think bees, tiny bats, hummingbirds)
- The flower being so high up in the tree that you have to tie the ladder onto the tree and, while perched precariously 12m above the ground, you realise that the ladder is about 8m too short
- The flower you’re trying to film being just a few centimetres out of frame, which you only find out after you’ve got the trap down from the forest canopy
- Forgetting to switch on the camera before you place it way up in the forest canpoy
- Lacking a sufficient Spanish swear-word vocabulary to communicate your displeasure to your coworkers
However, despite these problems, we have had some success! Even though it’s well known that Brownea grandiceps is pollinated by hummingbirds, so this one was just a practice-run, but I feel like it’s a success nonetheless! See the footage below:
But, that’s the easy part! What we really want to know is which animal species visit Brownea jaramilloi. So far, a combination of trees lacking flowers, and the flowers that are present being far too high up in the canopy to film, has stymied out efforts. However, with the onset of the wet season we hope to find more B. jaramilloi in flower when we return to Yasuni in December. Wish us luck!