North Queensland Naturalist
North Queensland Naturalist 47 (2017): 14-20
Musky Rat Kangaroos and other vertebrates feeding from the flowers of the root parasite Balanophora fungosa
Ray Pierce and Colin Ogle
Balanophora fungosa subsp. fungosa (Balanophoraceae) is an animal-pollinated flowering angiosperm found in Queensland rainforests. The ecology of this root parasite is poorly known and a preliminary study was undertaken at Speewah to identify vertebrates that feed at Balanophora flowers and may thus be pollinators. Seventy-two vertebrate feeding events were filmed with motion-detecting cameras on two flowering clumps of B. fungosa. The two most frequent visitors to flowers were Bush Rats and Musky Rat Kangaroos, but other mammals and birds (honeyeaters) were occasional visitors. Some individually recognisable Bush Rats and Musky Rat Kangaroos were repeat visitors to the same plants where they fed gently and mainly from the male flowers. Honeyeaters of four species take a higher risk than is normal for them in coming to ground-level to feed, suggesting that the nectar and/or pollen of B. fungosa is of high value to them. Most feeding took place at male flowers. This study identifies flowering B. fungosa being visited by a broad guild of vertebrate visitors not previously known to visit these plants, but it is currently not clear how these animals or the plant benefit.