I’ve just returned from my fieldwork in the beautiful Cerrado of Brazil! As part of my PhD project, I’m comparing the physiological traits of mistletoes from both the Brazilian and Australian savanna. Savannas are particularly conducive to parasitic plants, providing an open vegetation-type with little competition for sunlight, a large range of potential host species and high abundance of frugivorous birds as potential dispersal agents.
I’m comparing the leaf functional traits of mistletoes and their hosts, e.g. specific leaf area, gas exchange measurements, leaf nutrient concentration and leaf lifespan; herbivory rates, and investments in chemical defence. The upcoming results will be important to answer a range of questions about how parasitic plants use their resources, and to test hypotheses about how “leaf economics” differ between these parasites and their hosts.