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An ecological perspective on "plant carnivory beyond bogs": nutritional benefits of prey capture for the Mediterranean carnivorous plant Drosophyllum lusitanicum.

Skates LM, Paniw M, Cross AT, Ojeda F, Dixon KW, Stevens JC, Gebauer G. 2019. An ecological perspective on "plant carnivory beyond bogs": nutritional benefits of prey capture for the Mediterranean carnivorous plant Drosophyllum lusitanicum. Annals of Botany mcz045. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcz045 

Background and aims

Little is known about the evolutionary and ecological drivers of carnivory in plants, particularly for those terrestrial species that do not occur in typical swamp or bog habitats. The Mediterranean endemic Drosophyllum lusitanicum (Drosophyllaceae) is one of very few terrestrial carnivorous plant species outside of Australia to occur in seasonally dry, fire-prone habitats, and is thus an ecological rarity. Here we assess the nutritional benefits of prey capture for D. lusitanicum under differing levels of soil fertility in situ.

Methods

We measured the total nitrogen and stable nitrogen and carbon isotope ratios of D. lusitanicum leaves, neighbouring non-carnivorous plant leaves, and groups of insect prey in three populations in southern Spain. We calculated trophic enrichment (ε15N) and estimated the proportion of prey-derived nitrogen (%Nprey) in D. lusitanicum leaves, and related these factors to soil chemistry parameters measured at each site.

Key results

In all three populations studied, D. lusitanicum plants were significantly isotopically enriched compared with neighbouring non-carnivorous plants. We estimated that D. lusitanicum gain ~36 %Nprey at the Puerto de Gáliz site, ~54 %Nprey at the Sierra Carbonera site and ~75 %Nprey at the Montera del Torero site. Enrichment in N isotope (ε15N) differed considerably among sites; however, it was not found to be significantly related to log10(soil N), log10(soil P) or log10(soil K).

Conclusions

Drosophyllum lusitanicum individuals gain a significant nutritional benefit from captured prey in their natural habitat, exhibiting proportions of prey-derived nitrogen that are similar to those recorded for carnivorous plants occurring in more mesic environments. This study adds to the growing body of literature confirming that carnivory is a highly beneficial nutritional strategy not only in mesic habitats but also in seasonally dry environments, and provides insights to inform conservation strategies for D. lusitanicum in situ.