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Plants in motion - How fire triggers opening in Banksia seed pods

Thursday (22.03.2018)
10:40 - 11:00
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Fire plays an essential role in the life cycle of many plants in terrestrial ecosystems. A well-developed example for plant-fire interactions is the Australian plant genus Banksia, in which fire triggers opening of the woody fruits, followed by seed release. This specialized system is purely based on physical interactions of dead, yet highly functional tissue with its environment. Therefore, the timed release of mature seeds from the plant canopy upon specific external stimuli is not only an important driver for vegetation dynamics in these regions, but it is also a source of inspiration for materials scientists. In this presentation, we provide insights into the seed pod structure and the properties, which govern the heat-triggered opening mechanism in the species B. attenuata. Furthermore, based on a multi-scale material analysis of samples collected along a pronounced environmental gradient with decreasing rainfall and increasing fire risk, we show how the species adjusted its seed pods in order to achieve the specific opening temperatures in different habitats. As a conclusion from the identified features in the natural system, we deduce general principles, which might inspire the design of stimuli-responsive microstructures with 3D shape transformations.

Jessica Huss
Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces
Additional Authors:
  • Prof. Dr. Peter Fratzl
    Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces
  • Dr. David Merritt
    Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority
  • Dr. Michaela Eder
    Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces