Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Some publications have grabber titles. Climate by maybe page 30, friend realize the that title to be the author's finest effort. Not so v the recent book by Mike Shanahan. It's called Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret background and Redemptive Future the Fig Trees. Fig trees revolve out to it is in fascinating. Mike, you have actually a doctorate in fig biology. Explain to me, what is fig biology?

Mike Shanahan: Well, i studied figs in a rain forest in Borneo for about a year-and-a-half. I was studying not simply the fig trees, but also the pets that came and also ate your figs and also dispersed their seeds. Tied increase in this is another set of animals, the wasps, the pollinate the figs. The study website where I worked had 75 different types of figs growing in it.

You are watching: Tree and strangler fig symbiotic relationship

LRK: In one area?

MS: In one nationwide park, that's right.

*
Mike Shanahan

LRK: What's the fascination through the fig?

MS: They're fascinating in regards to their biology. Each of the types – and there are about 750 different species of figs – each of them relies on its own kinds that wasps come pollinate that flowers. Wasps execute this by entering the figs, which space really hole balls. They discover the flower inside and they can only lay your eggs within there. The fig relies totally on the wasp and also the wasp completely depends on the fig for your reproduction.

LRK: The flowers space inside the fig?

MS: That's right. They're covert away in a hole ball. The only things that really need to be getting inside there room the pollinator wasps.

LRK: What about the ax "stranglers" in the title?

MS: few of the fig trees room what we contact strangler figs. Lock don't prosper up native the floor like many plants. Instead, they begin off in life high up on an additional tall tree, whereby their seed drops once a bird or a monkey or a bat passes by. Climate they send your roots under the hold tree right into the ground. Slowly these roots the they send down additionally wrap roughly and adopt the hold tree until, sometimes, the organize tree dies away and you've acquired a hollow main point inside.

LRK: How huge do these points get?

MS: you can obtain strangler figs that are growing from 40 meter up in the rainforest canopy or even higher. They're additionally not just tall trees, lock colossal in their shape and also their form. Not only do lock send these roots under the host tree, yet they have the right to send roots down from their branches developing this maze that branches and also roots that form into this structure that is rather awesome come behold. And the greatest of these, the banyan trees, are qualified of shading 20,000 people. Few of the biggest ones space in India. They're huge. They keep on growing. As they flourish bigger, their branches send out much more of this roots that kind pillars. It looks favor there are lots of different trees there, but it's actually simply one large tree.

LRK: Where carry out figs flourish?

MS: They're found all approximately the tropics and also the subtropics. You discover 100 species in Africa. There's about 500 types between India, south-east Asia and Australia. They're even discovered in places like Hawaii, wherein they've to be introduced. And in new Zealand whereby they've to be introduced, and also there's the domestic fig i m sorry is get an impression in much more than 70 nations now. But, mostly they're tropic species.

*
Gods, Wasps and also Stranglers

LRK: You speak 80 million years back is when the an initial figs were evident, or the there's evidence of them?

MS:80 million years back is how long the connection with their pollinator wasps has lasted. There may have actually been figs about before that, however what we know is the their partnership with their pollinators began that long ago. That's when there were still giant dinosaurs roaming around and also when the continents that we have actually here this particular day in the civilization weren't all in their current positions. Castle were every massed together in a huge lump.

LRK: when the continent split, the figs moved. Exactly how did they become part of the civilization of the different cultures?

MS: i think the a long, long time back when our ancestors were world wandering roughly hunting ~ above a everyday basis, the fig trees to be pretty important. Not only as a source of food, but likewise as happy searching grounds since these trees attract a huge variety of animals that come and also feed top top them. It would be a logical move for any early humans to stake out these trees and find some meat as well as their figs to eat. Yet they've become main to societies all roughly the human being – in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and also in the Pacific. Human being have developed taboos against chopping fig trees down. Lock say the they are abodes the spirits, areas of prayer. They room featured in all of the significant religions and in many of the less well-known cultural traditions approximately the world.

LRK: friend tell a story in the book about a very tragic period in Kenya's history in Africa, as soon as the Kenyans revolted against the british rulers. There was an extraordinarily violent war. But the fig tree play a function in this. Can you tell that story?

MS: It played several duties really. The fig tree in question was spiritual to the Kikuyu people, that were the majority of the civilization in Kenya. It attributes in their beginning story and also it is a tree that world could use to commune with god. During the revolution against the British early american forces there, one of the leader of the rebels went out and prayed at his trees, his sacred fig trees, in bespeak to offer himself courage and strength. When the British discovered out about this, they supplied to stake out these fig trees waiting for him come come. One more one of this trees likewise served as a post office because that the rebels. Lock had small nooks and crannies in the tree the they would use choose a write-up office crate system. Different civilization from various groups that rebels and also friendly villagers would leave messages for each other and share knowledge that way.

LRK: call me around the "redemptive future" that the fig tree.

MS: What's special around figs is that they can produce their figs every year-round. That way they feed a huge variety of animals in the rain forests. They feeding at least 1,200 different varieties of birds and also mammals about the world. These animals disperse the seeds of thousands of various other species. Through planting fig trees, you have the right to encourage other things to come back and reforest areas that have actually been damaged by logging or by mining. This is happening approximately the world. It's happening in south America, in Africa, in Asia. Civilization are using fig tree to encourage rain woodlands to reform wherein they've been reduced down and damaged.

See more: How Many Glasses Of Wine Does It Take To Get Drunk ? How Many Glasses Of Wine Will Get You Drunk

LRK: through climate change, is this walk to adjust the fig and where it's growing? and also can the wasp endure a climate change?

MS: The wasps are fairly vulnerable. Together adults, they only live for around two days. In that two days they require to discover a fig in which come lay their eggs. They have actually a little bit the vulnerability. In the laboratory, when human being turned increase the temperature ~ above fig wasps, their life spans depleted very quickly. Castle looked favor they to be in big trouble in a warming world. But, actually, it might be the the fig wasps deserve to cope with several of this climate readjust and worldwide warming because they've experienced lot warmer periods in the past. They can evolve fairly quickly because they have very short generation times. Also, the within of the fig is a refuge native the heat. It deserve to be several levels cooler inside a fig 보다 outside. That's wherein they spend many of their stays anyway.