Amphibians are important bioindicators and play an important role in performing various ecological services for helping to maintain ecosystem dynamics and equilibrium. It is quite unfortunate that due to a number of natural and anthropogenic factors different amphibian species are being threatened with imminent dangers of extinction around the planet. Many such amphibians (frogs and salamanders) provide primary nitrogen to epiphytes through their feces as well as help in disseminating seeds after fruit consumption through their fecal deposits far and around performing crucial ecological services. The role of amphibians as potential pollinators has not yet been fully explored and well documented. However, small tree frogs inhabiting tropical and sub tropical ecosystems could be potential pollinators. Many of them take refuge inside high canopy epiphytes like bromeliads and orchids for protection, breeding and nesting as well for foraging for food. Primary pollinator insect species (like bees, wasps, ants, beetles, flies, moths and butterflies) visiting such flowers for collecting pollen and/or nectar are easy targets as prey for such amphibians. While predating on these primary pollinators, the amphibians are potentially brushed with pollens from such highly morphologically specialized epiphytic flowers due to elaborate morphological adaptations achieved through long evolution.
Hence, moving from one flower to another; such amphibians could successfully pollinate epiphytic flowers by transferring pollens stuck on their body, mouth, limbs or tongue. Amphibians having moist skin that help in cutaneous respiration could tentatively serve as attachment surface for the pollen grains. It is important to explore and document pollination in such critically endangered species and this could open a new vista in Pollination Biology; and may establish new mutualistic relationship between high canopy epiphytes and amphibians.
Saikat Kumar Basu