Mama Mti (Mother Tree)
Tropical rain forests are home to tremendous diversity of plants, animals, and other organisms. Even thousands of miles away, every day we encounter rain forest products such as coffee, rubber, spices, and many common houseplants. Trees in these forests often rely on animals such as monkeys, birds, rats, and bats to disperse their seeds after eating the fruit. One aspect of my PhD research in Biological Sciences is to document which trees are dispersed by fruit bats. In the Amani Nature Reserve (Tanzania, East Africa) alone, at least 50 species of plants are eaten by fruit bats. Trees such as this towering Maranthes goetzeniana (Chrysobalanceae family) attract fruit bats to disperse their almond-sized seeds to better locations away from the mother tree. Over decades, these trees grow to about half the height of University Hall (150 ft). I took this photo from the base of a Maranthes tree isolated from the forest by clearing for agriculture. The good news is that fruit bats still visit trees in farmland and may carry the fruit hundreds of feet before stopping to eat and spit out the seed. My research continues to investigate how human activities affect plant-animal interactions in the rain forest.