Christopher Muir

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ScienceShot: Why Are There Holes in the Swiss Cheese Plant?

With up to a few dozen holes pockmarking each of its leaves, the Swiss cheese plant (genus Monstera, pictured) is aptly named. But why would these plants, which dwell in the shadows of rainforests in the Americas, limit the leaf area they need to suck up sunshine? New computer simulations reveal that missing pieces may help the plants capture light more dependably in unpredictable situations. In the tropical understory, flecks of sunlight make it through the canopy intermittently and erratically. The holes allow leaves to spread out over greater areas without needing to expend energy and nutrients growing extra leaf area to fill this space. That, in turn, may improve the plant's chances of catching sunflecks, scientists will report in the February issue of The American Naturalist. Future experiments can test this model using grids of light sensors with holes in them to see if they actually can catch as many sunflecks as grids without holes.

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