SCAPE day 3 – science on a Sunday

Last night I added a new edible plant family to my life list – Cornaceae – courtesy of the ever-hospitable Marcin Zych and his home-made fruit liqueurs. The one he opened after dinner was made from the fruit of edible dogwood (Cornus mas) and had been maturing for five years.  It was sour but delicious, and very, very strong.  That’s my first new addition to the list since my Brazil trip back in in November 2013.  One day I will post an annotated list of the biodiversity of plant families I’ve consumed….but not tonight, it’s the end of a tiring final day of the SCAPE conference.

To end the meeting this morning there was a short session of three talks from Klaus Lunau’s sensory ecology group.  Klaus started the proceedings with a talk about the role of UV-absorbent dark central “bull’s eyes” in the middle of flowers and compound inflorescences.  He concluded that, despite their near mythological status, UV patterns were perhaps no more important than patterns absorbing at other wavelengths and presented some interesting experimental data to support the argument.  Over breakfast Klaus and I had discussed the absence of difficult questions at the conference; he felt people were being a little too polite.  So I asked him a hard one – whether his findings held up for male bees which don’t collect pollen.  He confessed that he’d not tested them and agreed that it would be worth doing: hope he does, will be an interesting test.

Klaus was followed by Saskia Wilmsen who showed us the results of some elegant experiments using artificial “flowers” with different shaped epidermal cells (flat, conical, etc.)  These different surfaces have distinctive optical properties in different light conditions, and bees behave in slightly different ways, accordingly.  A very cool reminder that as we move to ever finer scales in pollination ecology, from macro biogeographical and community questions, to micro surveys, the layers of complexity just go on increasing.

This latter point was reinforced by the final presentation of the meeting, which was Sebastien Kothe discussing the functional role of the spines possessed by pollen in some plant families, especially Malvaceae.  He presented compelling evidence that these spines have evolved in order to reduce their attractiveness to pollen collecting bees.  The spines render the pollen hydrophobic meaning that the bees have to use much more nectar to bind it into the pollen baskets.  It would be interesting to track the evolution of this echinaceous pollen through the fossil record and to assess whether its appearance coincides with the evolution of particular bee groups.

And with that, the 29th SCAPE meeting was finished except for the usual hugs and goodbyes and promises to meet up again in 12 months time, probably inside the Arctic Circle: it looks as though the 30th meeting will be held at the field station at Abisko.

The rest of Sunday was spent visiting the botanic garden and the art museum in Aarhus, both to be recommended if you have a chance to visit.  It’s now 8.15pm and I’m sat at Billund Airport with a large glass of Carlsberg, my first of the trip. It’s been a great meeting and I look forward to repeating it next year, and interacting with such a passionate group of scientists.  Over and out from SCAPE.

9 thoughts on “SCAPE day 3 – science on a Sunday

      1. Susan Walter

        A friend of mine has C. mas in her garden. She’s a botanical artist so anything in her garden tends to be because she want’s to paint it. It is an attractive small tree and produces lots of red fruits which her husband makes jam or spicy sauces from.

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