Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Accidental Gardeners: Birds Cultivate Pretty Plants

So-called bowerbirds are known to build elaborate branch-and-vine structures to attract their mates. Now, new research shows that this family of birds may also be accidental gardeners.

Male bowerbirds decorate their nest structures, or bowers, with brightly colored objects, including fruit from the potato bush plant. After the fruit shrivels, the birds toss it aside. The result is a lush garden around the bower. The birds even engage in accidental genetic engineering, picking the greenest fruits of the potato bush plant as décor. As a consequence, the potato bush fruits around bowers are greener than potato bush fruits growing elsewhere.

Inadvertent or not, these bower gardens establish the bowerbirds as the only species known to "cultivate" plants for uses other than food, said study researcher Joah Madden of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

"Until now, humans have been the only species known to cultivate plants for uses other than food," Madden said in a statement. "We grow plants for all kinds of things — from drugs, to clothing, to props that we use in our sexual displays such as roses — but it seems we are not unique in this respect."

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