Taming the carnivore

Image: Petr Dlouhý, Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Petr Dlouhý, Wikimedia Commons.

Animals are well known for recog­nising a good thing when they see it. So, too it seems are car­ni­vor­ous plants – those erstwhile gentle botan­ics that are not averse to digest­ing the odd fly or two to sup­ple­ment their nitro­gen intake. Well, that cer­tainly seems to be the case for Swedish Drosera rotun­di­fo­lia (com­mon or round-leaved sun­dew) at least. Using nitro­gen iso­tope meas­ure­ments, Jon Millett et al. demon­strated this carnivore’s remark­able oppor­tun­istic nutri­tional plas­ti­city – plants in areas that received the greatest levels of N depos­ition (from the atmo­sphere) obtained a smal­ler pro­por­tion of N from prey (via their mod­i­fied leaves) than did those with lower or inter­me­di­ate depos­itional N levels (and who were less reli­ant upon root-sourced N). This may also be an example of ‘every cloud has a sil­ver lin­ing’ since the N that is aer­i­ally sourced onto the stud­ied ombro­trophic mires is derived from what is oth­er­wise known as acid rain, which else­where has caused ser­i­ous envir­on­mental dam­age to many Scandinavian lakes. Canny crit­ters, car­ni­vores! However, the study also found that plants that gained more N from prey had an enhanced nutri­tional status (higher tis­sue %N). Which maybe also sup­ports the notion that if you have to ‘for­age’ for your food, you are fit­ter than those ‘couch pota­toes’ who just sit around to be waited upon…?

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

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