University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Plant Sciences Research Seminars > Of water flumes, waxy walls and toilet bowls: trapping strategies of carnivorous pitcher plants

Of water flumes, waxy walls and toilet bowls: trapping strategies of carnivorous pitcher plants

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Carnivorous plants supplement their nutrition with animal prey that they capture in highly elaborate traps. The ability to use this additional nutrient source enables them to colonise extreme habitats where soil nutrients are scarce. Pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes bear specialised mug-shaped leaves that possess several adaptations for the trapping of insects, including a viscoelastic fluid, slippery wax crystals and downward-pointing cells on the inner pitcher wall, and a superhydrophilic pitcher rim (peristome) which is only slippery when wet. Trap morphology and prey spectrum vary substantially between the more than 100 species in the genus, indicating the presence of distinct trapping strategies. I will show that distinct varieties and species rely on different trap components and have evolved specific trap adaptations to target different prey. Some species have even abandoned carnivory and evolved a mutualistic relationship with tree shrews that deposit their faeces in the pitchers. There is a growing body of evidence that selective pressures for nutrient resource partitioning have driven adaptive radiation in the genus Nepenthes, making it an ideal model system to study mechanisms of plant evolution.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Research Seminars series.

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