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: 41.46). 01/2002; 415(6867):36-37. DOI: 10.1038/415036a


Carnivorous pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes are not usually very selective about their prey, catching anything that is careless enough to walk on their slippery peristome, but Nepenthes albomarginata is an exception. We show here that this plant uses a fringe of edible white hairs to lure and then trap its prey, which consists exclusively of termites in enormous numbers. This singular feature accounts for the specialization of N. albomarginata for one prey taxon, unique so far among carnivorous plants.

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    • "For example, Nepenthes ampullaria derives a significant proportion of its nitrogen from interception of falling leaf litter (Moran et al., 2003; Pavlovič et al., 2011), while four other species (Nepenthes baramensis, Nepenthes lowii, Nepenthes rajah and Nepenthes macrophylla) sequester nutrients from mammalian excreta (Clarke et al., 2009; Chin et al., 2010; Grafe et al., 2011; Wells et al., 2011). Nepenthes albomarginata is a termite specialist (Moran et al., 2001; Merbach et al., 2002), and Nepenthes bicalcarata has a mutualistic nutritional association with the ant Camponotus schmitzi (Clarke and Kitching, 1995; Merbach et al., 2007; Bazile et al., 2012; Thornham et al., 2012). However, the majority of Nepenthes species studied thus far capture and digest a range of small arthropods, and many are particularly attractive to ants (e.g. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background and Aims Nepenthes (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.
    Preview · Article · Aug 2013 · Annals of Botany
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    • "It is likely that the nutritional benefits more than compensate the costs that N. bicalcarata might incur for housing the ants, such as the possible nutrient export via winged males and queens of C. schmitzi itself, the production of hollow tendril domatia and an increased nectar secretion [18]. Our study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that many alternative nutrient acquisition strategies have evolved in the genus Nepenthes [27], [37], [49]–[54]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Many plants combat herbivore and pathogen attack indirectly by attracting predators of their herbivores. Here we describe a novel type of insect-plant interaction where a carnivorous plant uses such an indirect defence to prevent nutrient loss to kleptoparasites. The ant Camponotus schmitzi is an obligate inhabitant of the carnivorous pitcher plant Nepenthes bicalcarata in Borneo. It has recently been suggested that this ant-plant interaction is a nutritional mutualism, but the detailed mechanisms and the origin of the ant-derived nutrient supply have remained unexplained. We confirm that N. bicalcarata host plant leaves naturally have an elevated (15)N/(14)N stable isotope abundance ratio (δ(15)N) when colonised by C. schmitzi. This indicates that a higher proportion of the plants' nitrogen is insect-derived when C. schmitzi ants are present (ca. 100%, vs. 77% in uncolonised plants) and that more nitrogen is available to them. We demonstrated direct flux of nutrients from the ants to the host plant in a (15)N pulse-chase experiment. As C. schmitzi ants only feed on nectar and pitcher contents of their host, the elevated foliar δ(15)N cannot be explained by classic ant-feeding (myrmecotrophy) but must originate from a higher efficiency of the pitcher traps. We discovered that C. schmitzi ants not only increase the pitchers' capture efficiency by keeping the pitchers' trapping surfaces clean, but they also reduce nutrient loss from the pitchers by predating dipteran pitcher inhabitants (infauna). Consequently, nutrients the pitchers would have otherwise lost via emerging flies become available as ant colony waste. The plants' prey is therefore conserved by the ants. The interaction between C. schmitzi, N. bicalcarata and dipteran pitcher infauna represents a new type of mutualism where animals mitigate the damage by nutrient thieves to a plant.
    Full-text · Article · May 2013 · PLoS ONE
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    • "The compact anatomy of traps (reminiscent of roots), which is to restrict apoplastic conductivity (Pavlovič et al., 2007), serves the selective symplastic transport of nutrients gained from carnivory. Investments in the following cause considerable maintenance costs: attractants such as nectars and odours (Juniper et al., 1989; Moran, 1996; Bohn and Federle, 2004; Bennett and Ellison, 2009; Bhattarai and Horner, 2009; Jürgens et al., 2009); edible trichomes (Merbach et al., 2002); colourful projections (Schaefer and Ruxton, 2008) and UV patterns (Moran et al., 1999); resinous droplets (Voigt and Gorb, 2010) or slime that in Drosophyllum has a scent of honey, which may mimic nectar (Jürgens et al., 2009); glands excreting mucilage (Drosera, Pinguicula, Byblis) or a hydrophobic resin (Roridula) to catch prey (Juniper et al., 1989); glands excreting digestive enzymes – these digestive glands, with their attendant mechanisms for simultaneous enzyme secretion and nutrient absorption are an anatomical birthmark of the carnivorous syndrome (Lüttge, 1971; Benzing et al., 1976); exudation of organic compounds to support the microbial community associated with the traps (Sirová et al., 2009, 2010); and nutrient uptake machinery (An et al., 2001) required for functioning of each single trap (Knight, 1992; Adamec, 2006, 2010a; Pavlovič et al., 2007; Hájek and Adamec, 2010). Therefore, it is not surprising that the dual use of leaves for photosynthesis and nutrient uptake has deeply reduced the net photosynthetic rate of terrestrial carnivorous plants, leading ultimately to reduction of the relative growth rate (Ellison, 2006; Farnsworth and Ellison, 2008); giant carnivorous species are the exception rather than the rule: Triphyophyllum peltatum, Nepenthes rajah, N. edwardsi ana, N. ampullaria, N. rafflesiana and N. rafflesiana var. "
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    ABSTRACT: A plant is considered carnivorous if it receives any noticeable benefit from catching small animals. The morphological and physiological adaptations to carnivorous existence is most complex in plants, thanks to which carnivorous plants have been cited by Darwin as 'the most wonderful plants in the world'. When considering the range of these adaptations, one realizes that the carnivory is a result of a multitude of different features. This review discusses a selection of relevant articles, culled from a wide array of research topics on plant carnivory, and focuses in particular on physiological processes associated with active trapping and digestion of prey. Carnivory offers the plants special advantages in habitats where nutrient supply is scarce. Counterbalancing costs are the investments in synthesis and the maintenance of trapping organs and hydrolysing enzymes. With the progress in genetic, molecular and microscopic techniques, we are well on the way to a full appreciation of various aspects of plant carnivory. Sufficiently complex to be of scientific interest and finite enough to allow conclusive appraisal, carnivorous plants can be viewed as unique models for the examination of rapid organ movements, plant excitability, enzyme secretion, nutrient absorption, food-web relationships, phylogenetic and intergeneric relationships or structural and mineral investment in carnivory.
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