Stanford Assistant Professor Tadashi Fukami has established a research program at Jasper Ridge, focused on the microbial communities that develop in the nectar of each flower of Sticky Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus). Both fungi (yeast) and bacteria can live in the nectar. They are often brought to the flower by pollinators. (The principal Mimulus pollinator is Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna).)
There is an extraordinary range of questions to address using this system. One of my favorites: where does the yeast live in the off-season? Many of the yeast and bacteria are specific for floral nectar, and do not live in the soil or other reservoirs. Perhaps they live in nectar elsewhere on the Peninsula, when the Mimulus at Jasper Ridge is not flowering. Perhaps the yeast travels to Mexico and back with migrating hummingbirds (???). Many questions...
Professor Fukami is also developing a new version of Bio 44Y, the undergraduate ecology lab course, using this system (yeast in Mimulus nectar). With many "miniature ecosystems" to work with (one in each flower) and many variables to note, each student group can ask their own questions and perform their own research. No more cookbook labs! Students can work in the lab and in the field. (Variables include time of blossoming and pollination; environmental variables such as surroundings, aspect, shading, temperature, & sunlight/UV; which hummingbird visited the flower and when; and many more. There is an easy way to tell if a flower has been pollinated: see the captions below.)
Tad Fukami's home page: <http://www.stanford.edu/~fukamit/>
Description of Bio 44Y: <http://www.stanford.edu/~fukamit/teaching.htm>