Gecko Pollinators Help "Save" Rare Flower

Scott Norris
for National Geographic News
April 23, 2007

On the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, a brilliant green lizard and a palmlike shrub are helping to save a rare flowering plant from extinction.

The naturally occurring conservation partnership features the lizard—a species known as the blue-tailed day gecko—in an unusual role, researchers say: The lizard is the key pollinator of the threatened Trochetia flower.

The shrubby Pandanus plant does its part by providing the lizard a safe haven from predators as it performs pollinations, according to a new study.

Although insects also visited the Trochetia flowers, the research team found that the bugs did not carry much pollen from one blossom to another, proving the gecko is the main pollinator.

"An animal may visit flowers often, eating pollen or nectar, but not provide a good pollination service," said study leader Dennis Hansen of the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

"Our study is one of the few to provide evidence that lizards can indeed be efficient pollinators."

Lizard Stand-In

Previously, a nectar-sipping bird called the olive white-eye pollinated Trochetia, but the bird is nearly extinct.

Researchers say the flower's survival now largely depends on visits from the 5-inch-long (13-centimeter-long) gecko.

Like the birds, the geckos visit Trochetia plants to harvest nectar produced by the flowers. In the process they transfer pollen from one blossom to another.

But by venturing out on the exposed blossoms, geckos risk becoming lunch for the Mauritian kestrel, a type of falcon that preys on lizards. Safety for the gecko lies in dense, nearly impenetrable thickets of Pandanus plants growing around the flowers.

Hansen's team found that Trochetia flowers growing close to Pandanus patches received the lion's share of gecko visitations.

Continued on Next Page >>




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