By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Nathan Muchhala who discovered and researches a tube-lipped nectar bat in Ecuador with a tongue so long that it stores its tongue in its rib cage, [spoke about] "Bats, Birds, and Bellflowers: The Evolution of Specialized Pollination in the Neotropics" at the UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar on Wednesday.
Muchhala, a postdoctoral fellow in the Stacey D. Smith lab, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, says the two-inch long bat, Anoura fistulata, found in the Equadorian Andes, can extend its tongue 3.3 inches. Proportionately, its tongue is longer than any other mammal in world.
Muchhala, who discovered the new species several years ago in Ecuador, described it in a 2005 paper. He published his work in 2006 in the journal Nature and was featured in a 2006 article in The New York Times.
The bat nectars Centropogon nigricans, which has a corolla the same length as the bat's tongue. The flowering plant is found in Mexico and much of South America, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru. Muchhala first traveled to the Neotropics with a Fulbright Fellowship in 1999, and has been returning for fieldwork on bat and bird pollination ever since. He received his doctorate in biology in 2007 from the University of Miami, was a postdoctoral fellow with the University of Toronto from 2007 to 2010, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow with the University of Nebraska. He has authored 24 scientific papers.
"My research combines experiments and theory to explore the ecology and evolution of plant-pollinator interactions, with a focus on vertebrate pollination in the Neotropics," he said. "Experiments suggest that this bat is involved in a coevolutionary race with the long-tubed flowers; tongue elongation allows bats to reach more nectar, while flower elongation maximizes pollen transfer."
At the seminar, Mucchala [showed] "an amazing set of new footage from National Geographic (slow-motion, close-up pollination shots)."
Graduate student Jessica Forrest of the Neal Williams lab is hosting the seminar.
In a webcast project coordinated by professor James R. Carey, the seminar will be videotaped and can be accessed in about two weeks on UCTV.