Butterfly plants grow as well as they are eaten, scientists say
Researchers in the United States and China say the butterfly plants they studied were able to grow in soil that contained no organic matter and were growing in soil containing higher amounts of a nutrient than soil with less organic matter.
The findings were published today (March 26) in the journal Nature Communications.
“We’ve known that butterfly plants can grow well in soils containing no organic material, but we haven’t really understood how,” said study leader Zhen Li, a soil science researcher at Cornell University.
“We found that this type of soil was able to support both plant growth and insect life.
We think that soil is a very important source of nutrient for many species of plants.”
A butterfly plant growing in a soil sample in China’s Sichuan province.
Photo by Zhang Li.
For example, the soil in the study was composed of organic matter, like rice or rice bran, but with a lot of water, Li said.
“The more water in the soil, the more plant and insect growth you can have, but the more nutrients you can provide, the higher the growth,” Li said in an interview.
“The amount of water is a key parameter to make a decision whether to use organic matter or not.”
The researchers used soil from the same field where the plant grew as well the same soil where the Chinese researchers had grown the butterfly plant.
They also used the same organic matter as the Chinese soil, but they didn’t add any organic matter to the soil that wasn’t there before.
“In soil where organic matter is abundant, the growth of the plant depends on the amount of organic material in the ground,” Li added.
“When the organic matter in the plant is very low, the plant can grow without feeding on nutrients.
But if the organic material is high, the plants are going to die because they’re going to starve.
The higher the organic content, the faster the plant dies.”
Li said the results suggest that plants that depend on a food source of nutrients are able to adapt to their conditions without needing to feed on nutrients in the environment.
“They have the ability to survive and to adapt, but not to rely on nutrients,” he said.
“They have to rely mostly on what the environment gives them.”
Li’s research is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
The results are consistent with the findings of a similar study published last year by researchers from China and Taiwan.
The two researchers, who are also part of the Cornell Lab of Plant Science, found that butterfly plant plants in soil with a high amount of phosphorus and nitrogen could survive in high-oxygen conditions, but their growth was slower and they were not as efficient as other plants in surviving and growing in low-oxygeres.
The study’s lead author, Xiaosong Yu, a research associate in the lab, said the Chinese and Taiwanese findings suggest that butterfly trees can adapt to environmental changes without relying on nutrients from their soil.
“If the ecosystem supports the survival of these plants, then they are going, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a great place to grow,'” Yu said.
The researchers said their results are important because many of the insect species that are eaten by insects like butterflies, caterpillars and moths use insects to forage for nutrients.
“I think it’s important that the insects, if they were able, to provide the plants with food,” Li, the Cornell research associate, said.