Studying flowers can teach us a surprising amount about how species in ecological communities interact.
Tad Fukami is a professor of biology at Stanford University, who studies ecological communities. In other words, he studies collections of species in different ecosystems.
“I'm interested in understanding ecological communities just generally speaking. I just find it fascinating and want to understand how different species are affecting one another in our ecosystem.” Fukami explained.
To look at how species affect each other, Fukami spends his time amongst the flowers, exploring how communities of microbes form in flower nectar.
In one of his recent experiments, Fukami looked at how nectar microbes persist on a plant. He introduced microbes to flowers, and even after the flowers died, he found those same microbes in other flowers on that same plant.
“That indicates that once a plant becomes dominated by a particular microbe, they remain that way, because of the spread of these microbes, presumably because pollinators keep coming, and they locally spread species that are common in that plant.” Fukami said.
Fukami said the presence of certain microbes, like yeasts, in flower nectar can increase the number of pollinators that come to a flower. One research path Fukami hopes to explore is how the presence of these yeasts might improve crop pollination.
“So if there are different species of microbes that do different things to reduce or increase pollination, can we make use of that to make agriculture more efficient?” Fukami said.
Fukami will be speaking about his research next Wednesday and Thursday at 4pm at the Ecology Center. To watch the recorded seminars, visit ecology.usu.edu/seminar-series/recorded-seminars/.