Fish in ponds benefit flowering plants

Fish and flowering plants would seem to have as much in common as pigs and beauty soap. But ecologists at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Florida have found an amazing relationship between the different species that provides a new direction for understanding how ecosystems "hook up."

A team of researchers, headed by Tiffany Knight, Ph.D., Washington University assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, has shown a correlation between the presence of fish in ponds and well-pollinated St. John's wort (Hypericum fasciculatum, Hypericaceae) at a Florida research station.

The team checked out eight ponds at a University of Florida preserve, four containing fish, the other four fish-free. They found that shoreline St. John's wort plants near the fish ponds were far better pollinated than those near the fish-free ponds. The reason? Fish reduce, if not decimate, dragonfly populations when they start their lives in the ponds as larvae. Those dragonflies that can escape the fish grow up to live outside the water environment where their major prey are bees, moths and flies, which live in a synergistic state with the flowering plants what ecologists call "mutualism." A bee, for instance, gets nourishment from a flowering plant, and the plant is able to reproduce because of the bee's attention; thus, both species benefit mutually.

Novel find

"This cross-ecosytem linkage is a novel find," said Knight. "We've shown that species interactions can reverberate across two different ecosystems and have major implications for the food web and species' survival.

"The work is different from most trophic cascade food web studies in that it incorporates mutualism instead of focusing strictly on predator-prey relationships. Taking a complex life history into account also presents new insights into ecological processes."

A dragonfly's life history is complex, Knight explained, in

Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick
Washington University in St. Louis

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