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Carnivorous Nepenthes pitcher plants are a rich food source for a diverse vertebrate community

Nepenthes Nepenthes rafflesiana Nepenthes gracilis Nepenthes hemsleyana Nepenthes lowii Nepenthes rajah

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#1 Aidan

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Posted 20 July 2015 - 07:42 PM

An online article from the Journal of Natural history, available to read and/or download -


Carnivorous Nepenthes pitcher plants are a rich food source for a diverse vertebrate community

Carnivorous pitcher plants capture insect prey to acquire essential nutrients while growing on extremely poor soils. A few individual species have evolved mutualistic relationships with small mammals that visit the traps to harvest nectar, and in return leave faecal droppings in the pitchers. Here we report that a diverse guild of nectar-harvesting vertebrates visits pitchers of two common lowland Nepenthes species without providing any obvious benefit for the plants. Over four consecutive field seasons, we observed four species of sunbirds and one species of tree shrew drinking nectar from pitcher plants. Foraging activity was highest in the morning and late afternoon. Van Hasselt’s, Brown-throated and olive-backed sunbirds were regular and highly abundant pitcher visitors in two different field sites. A crimson sunbird and a lesser tree shrew were each observed harvesting nectar on one occasion. The vertebrates harvested nectar from the pitcher rim (peristome) of N. rafflesiana and from the underside of the pitcher lid of N. gracilis. A comparison of the nectar production of these and three further sympatric species revealed exceptionally high quantities of nectar for N. rafflesiana. Other factors such as plant and pitcher abundance and the habitat preferences of the observed vertebrates are likely to also play a role in their choice to visit particular species. This is the first account of a case of obvious nectar robbing from Nepenthes pitchers by a guild of species that are too large to serve as prey, while the pitcher size and shape prevent faecal droppings from reaching the pitcher’s inside. This interaction provides an example of a possible starting point for the evolution of the elaborate mutualistic relationships observed in some species. Follow-up adaptations of pitcher shape could enable the plants to catch the droppings of their visitors and turn an exploitative relationship into a mutualism.





Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Nepenthes, Nepenthes rafflesiana, Nepenthes gracilis, Nepenthes hemsleyana, Nepenthes lowii, Nepenthes rajah

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