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Plants in the Greenhouse - Aechmea miniata

Aechmea miniata

Aechmea miniata. Photo by Jason Carley.

One of the members of the bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae) known as tank bromeliads, Aechmea miniata produces leaves that are very close to each other and form tanks known as phytotelmata, which are small pools of water that collect at the base of its leaves, and provide habitats for many microorganisms and invertebrates. A. miniata, like most of the Aechmea species, also has a close relationship with ants. As an epiphyte, A. miniata, does not have access to nutrients found in the soil and must collect nutrients from debris that collects in its tank. Ants have found that these tanks are good sources of water throughout the year and the foliage of A. miniata gives them greater protection from storms and predators. In turn, the ants provide valuable nutrients to the plant when unwanted prey and feces collect around the base of the plant. In fact, the health as well as color and flower size of the plant has been found to be directly related to colonization by ants. A study of Aechmea in French Guiana found that identical species grew quite differently depending on the species of ant that colonized it.[1] This relationship is a perfect example of the dynamics of bio-diversity that are found throughout the natural world.

[1] Leroy, C., Corbara, B., Dejean, A. & Cereghino, R. (2009) Ants mediate foliar structure and nitrogen acquisition in a tank-bromeliad. New Phytologist 183:1124-1133.

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