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Carnivorous plants: Mass march of termites into the deadly trap

Fachbereich Biologie, Zoologisches Institut, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main, Postfach 111932, 60054 Frankfurt, Germany.
Nature (Impact Factor: 42.35). 01/2002; 415(6867):36-37. DOI: 10.1038/415036a

ABSTRACT Carnivorous pitcher plants of the genus

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    ABSTRACT: The Bornean climber, Nepenthes bicalcarata, is unique among plants because it is both carnivorous and myrmecophytic, bearing pitcher-shaped leaves and the ant Camponotus schmitzi within tendrils. We explored, in the peat swamp forests of Brunei, the hypothesis that these ants contribute to plant nutrition by catching and digesting its prey.Wefirst tested whether ants increasedplant’s capture rate.Wefound that unlikemost plant-ants, C. schmitzidonot exhibit dissuasive leaf-patrolling behaviour (zero patrol on 67 pitchers of 10 plants) but lie concealed under pitcher rim (13 ± 6 ants per pitcher) allowing numerous insect visits. However, 47 out of 50 individuals of the largest visitor dropped into the pitchers of five plants were attacked by ants and the capture rate of the same pitchers deprived of their ambush hunting ants decreased three-fold.We then tested whether ants participated in plant’s digestion.We showed in a 15-d long experiment that ants fed on prey and returned it in pieces in seven out of eight pitchers. The 40 prey deposited in ant-deprived pitchers remained intact indicating a weak digestive power of the fluid confirmed to be only weakly acidic (pH ∼5, n = 67). The analysis of 10 pitcher contents revealed that prey, mainly ants and termites, was very numerous (∼400 per pitcher per plant) and highly fragmented. Altogether, these data suggest a positive effect of C. schmitzi on both prey intake and breakdown. This ant–plant interaction could thus be a nutritional mutualism involving the unusual association of carnivory and myrmecotrophy.
    Journal of Tropical Ecology 01/2011; 27(01):15-24. · 1.22 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes capture a wide range of arthropod prey for nutritional benefit, using complex combinations of visual and olfactory signals and gravity-driven pitfall trapping mechanisms. In many localities throughout Southeast Asia, several Nepenthes different species occur in mixed populations. Often, the species present at any given location have strongly divergent trap structures and preliminary surveys indicate that different species trap different combinations of arthropod prey, even when growing at the same locality. On this basis, it has been proposed that co-existing Nepenthes species may be engaged in niche segregation with regards to arthropod prey, avoiding direct competition with congeners by deploying traps that have modifications that enable them to target specific prey types. We examined prey capture among 3 multi-species Nepenthes populations in Borneo, finding that co-existing Nepenthes species do capture different combinations of prey, but that significant interspecific variations in arthropod prey combinations can often be detected only at sub-ordinal taxonomic ranks. In all lowland Nepenthes species examined, the dominant prey taxon is Formicidae, but montane Nepenthes trap few (or no) ants and 2 of the 3 species studied have evolved to target alternative sources of nutrition, such as tree shrew feces. Using similarity and null model analyses, we detected evidence for niche segregation with regards to formicid prey among 5 lowland, sympatric Nepenthes species in Sarawak. However, we were unable to determine whether these results provide support for the niche segregation hypothesis, or whether they simply reflect unquantified variation in heterogeneous habitats and/or ant communities in the study sites. These findings are used to propose improvements to the design of field experiments that seek to test hypotheses about targeted prey capture patterns in Nepenthes.
    Plant signaling & behavior 01/2014; 9(1).
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    ABSTRACT: Background and AimsNepenthes (Nepenthaceae, approx. 120 species) are carnivorous pitcher plants with a centre of diversity comprising the Philippines, Borneo, Sumatra and Sulawesi. Nepenthes pitchers use three main mechanisms for capturing prey: epicuticular waxes inside the pitcher; a wettable peristome (a collar-shaped structure around the opening); and viscoelastic fluid. Previous studies have provided evidence suggesting that the first mechanism may be more suited to seasonal climates, whereas the latter two might be more suited to perhumid environments. In this study, this idea was tested using climate envelope modelling.MethodsA total of 94 species, comprising 1978 populations, were grouped by prey capture mechanism (large peristome, small peristome, waxy, waxless, viscoelastic, non-viscoelastic, 'wet' syndrome and 'dry' syndrome). Nineteen bioclimatic variables were used to model habitat suitability at approx. 1 km resolution for each group, using Maxent, a presence-only species distribution modelling program.Key ResultsPrey capture groups putatively associated with perhumid conditions (large peristome, waxless, viscoelastic and 'wet' syndrome) had more restricted areas of probable habitat suitability than those associated putatively with less humid conditions (small peristome, waxy, non-viscoelastic and'dry' syndrome). Overall, the viscoelastic group showed the most restricted area of modelled suitable habitat.Conclusions The current study is the first to demonstrate that the prey capture mechanism in a carnivorous plant is constrained by climate. Nepenthes species employing peristome-based and viscoelastic fluid-based capture are largely restricted to perhumid regions; in contrast, the wax-based mechanism allows successful capture in both perhumid and more seasonal areas. Possible reasons for the maintenance of peristome-based and viscoelastic fluid-based capture mechanisms in Nepenthes are discussed in relation to the costs and benefits associated with a given prey capture strategy.
    Annals of Botany 08/2013; · 3.45 Impact Factor

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