Important international media have already disseminated the finding that, for the first time, shows a plant imitating several '' guests ''.
The creeper Boquilla trifoliolata, native to the temperate rain forest of Chile and Argentina, is the protagonist of a remarkable discovery in nature made by the researcher of the University of La Serena, Dr. Ernesto Gianoli Molla.Through research, the scientist found that the leaves of this climbing plant can mimic the leaves of multiple support trees (hosts) and their mimicry patterns are consistent with a hypothesis of avoidance of herbivory.
The discovery was made by Dr. Ernesto Gianoli along with his student from the University of Concepción, Fernando Carrasco Urra. The article was published last week in the journal Current Biology (Elsevier) (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982214002693) and immediately caught the attention of important international media.
National Geographic (http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/24/the-most-versatile-impressionist-in-the-forest/) and Science (http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/04/scienceshot-chameleon-vine-discovered-chile) have already released this discovery that shows the remarkable capacity of imitation of this plant, while this week will be added the journal Nature.
As biologists point out in their article, mimicry in animals is quite common, while cases documented in plants are strange and the associated benefits rarely elucidated.
In the case of Boquilla trifoliolata (family Lardizabalaceae), the imitation of the leaves of their support trees is carried out in terms of size, shape, thickness and color of the sheet, as well as the orientation and length of the petiole, and even, the appearance of a spine in the leaf apex.
As the researchers point out, previously the case of other plants that exhibit mimicry capacity with another species or characteristics of it has been reported, but this is the first time that a single individual can imitate multiple and varied hosts.
According to the data obtained by the authors, this ability gives these plants some protection against forest herbivores, such as insects and small snails.
Dr. Ernesto Gianoli and Fernando Carrasco have not yet determined how this plant - which is already being called in the media "the chameleon creeper" - can capture the characteristics of its nearby trees. At the moment, it is presumed that it would have the ability to do so by detecting hidden signals in odors or chemical substances secreted by the hosts, or by means of microbes that can carry signals of activation genes between Boquila trifoliolata and the mimicked species.
As the biologist from the University of La Serena tells National Geographic, the discovery was part of a naturalistic observation walk through the forest, when he decided to stop the usual sampling and measurement work that involves his studies of forest plants tempered from Chile.
At that time, Dr. Ernesto Gianoli discovered the strange capacity of Boquilla trifoliolata, which grew in the sector exhibiting very different leaves, at the same time similar to its plants and nearby trees.
This is how the project of the undergraduate thesis of Fernando Carrasco was born and the research that allowed to verify the extraordinary capacities of the aforementioned vine, in which they could even show that Boquila leaves can vary up to 10 times the size of their leaves and from very clear until very dark the color of them.
The relevance of this finding, which in the words of Ernesto Gianoli '' can lead us to understand a new way by which the phenotype of plants is controlled '', has generated that the authors of the main textbook of biology in English (Campbell ) contact him to give special coverage to the case in the next edition of the book.