A vibrantly colored gecko plays a key role in a highly threatened ecological community in Mauritius, reports new research published in American Naturalist.Studying plant-animal interactions in Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island famous for its extinct dodo bird, researchers found that a rare plant, Trochetia blackburniana, benefits from its proximity to Pandanus
|Nectar-feeding male P. cepediana day gecko approaching a flower of T. blackburniana. Photo by Dr. Dennis M. Hansen.The researchers report that “dense patches of palmlike Pandanus plants (Pandanaceae) are favored microhabitats of this gecko… Even a small patch of Pandanus plants forms a dense, impenetrable matrix of spiky, serrated leaves. Hiding in such patches may protect P. cepediana from sudden attacks by its main predator, the Mauritian kestrel Falco punctatus, a bird feeding almost exclusively on Phelsuma geckos (Groombridge et al. 2001), and from other endemic Mauritian birds that prey on Phelsuma geckos (Cheke 1987). Furthermore, Pandanus patches provide good egg-laying sites, and the dense shade they offer may be important for Phelsuma thermoregulation.”|
plants because they house high densities of geckos responsible for pollination. The findings, which unusually identify a lizard as a key pollinator, are significant because they provide “valuable management insights for ongoing conservation efforts to save the highly endangered flora of Mauritius.”The researchers, led by Dennis M. Hansen of the Institute of Environmental Sciences at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, used a gecko exclusion experiment to determine the importance of the endemic blue-tailed day gecko (Phelsuma cepediana) in pollination of Trochetia blackburniana, a species that is now in decline due to the impact of introduced species and the disappearance of its key pollinator, the olive white-eye (Zosterops chloronothos), a bird, across much of its range. The authors found that unlike alien invasive wasps and birds that fed on Trochetia blackburniana nectar without collecting pollen, the blue-tailed day gecko was tagged with pollen “either just behind the head or on the gecko’s throat and chest,” making it a crucial pollinator of the plant species. Hansen and colleagues showed that gecko exclusion had a “highly significant negative effect” on fruiting of Trochetia blackburniana.
“Lizard pollination of T. blackburniana is an interesting phenomenon in itself because only a few studies so far have identified lizards as important pollinators of plants,” they wrote. “Most of the known examples of lizard pollination occur on islands where a low diversity and a low abundance of invertebrates may force otherwise mostly insectivorous lizards to expand their diet to include fruit and nectar.”
The researchers say their work may be applicable to conservation efforts in the neighboring islands of Reunion and Madagascar where there are also large populations of day geckos and Pandanus plants.
“Our results highlight the significance of the community context when considering conservation management of endangered plant species,” they write.
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