Parasitic plants are an intriguing group of organisms that don’t play by the same set of rules as other plants—over evolutionary time, they’ve come up with sneaky ways of cheating the system.
These plants depend on hosts for their nutrition, exhibiting a range of strategies to avoid detection by the host while still attracting animals to disperse their pollen and seeds.
Parasitic plants are characteristically patchy in their occurrence patterns, reflecting movement patterns of their seed dispersers as well as variation in host plants. In this diagram, the black dots represent all propsective hosts along an arid zone creekline (Dead finish Acacia tetragonophylla). Those white dots represent the small number of acacias infected with mistletoe (Wire-leaved mistletoe Amyema preissii), found only on those hosts growing close to drainage channel (and, therefore with more reliable access to water year-round).
Although I have conducted some research on sandalwood and Exocarpus, most of my parasitic plant research relates to mistletoes, primarily within the following areas:
As well as improving our understanding of how mistletoe contribute to the structure and function of woodlands and forests, this work also informs on-ground management, including
- how to manage areas with too much mistletoe
- how to restore mistletoe back into areas where it no longer grows