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Bizarre friendships: Why do some plants befriend ants?

Sunday, July 1, 2018 @ 4PM

About the talk: Bizarre friendships: Why do some plants befriend ants? 
A tree called Haasige mara (Humboldtia brunonis), found only in the rainforests of the Western Ghats provides special cosy and safe shelters for aggressive ants to live in. This tree also produces sweet nectar on its young leaves for the ants to drink. In return for the food and shelter, the ants act as bodyguards for the host plant, chasing away caterpillars that come to chew the leaves. But such freely available food and shelter also attracts many interlopers (such as non-aggressive ants, and even a peculiar tree-dwelling earthworm!) that do not protect the host plant. Why does the plant tolerate these interlopers? In my talk I will share with you the story of how I investigated this mystery and what I discovered.

About the speaker:Dr. Joyshree Chanam works on plant–insect interactions, focusing on chemical-based communication and the evolution of mutualisms between plants and insects. During her PhD dissertation at the Institute of Science, Bangalore, she spent almost half a year every year in the tropical wet evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, investigating the mysteries of the ant-plant Humboldtia brunonis. Presently, she is a Post Doctoral Fellow at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore, investigating the effects of climate warming on plant–insect interactions in the high altitude alpine meadows of the Eastern Himalayas.

About Cafe Oikos:Cafe Oikos organises bi-monthly talks by a friendly neighbourhood ecologist at cafes/bookstores in Bangalore. The talks focus on research on ecology and conservation carried out in India.