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Evidence for alternative trapping strategies in two forms of the pitcher plant, Nepenthes rafflesiana.

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Bauer, Ulrike 
Grafe, T Ulmar 


Nepenthes pitchers are specialized leaves that function as insect traps. Several pitcher components may contribute to trapping, including the pitcher fluid, slippery wax crystals and downward-pointing epidermal cells on the inner pitcher wall, and the wetness-dependent pitcher rim (peristome), but the relative importance of these traits is unclear. Mechanisms of prey capture and retention in the field were investigated by quantifying the effect of 'knock-out' manipulations of individual pitcher structures, and by testing the ability of pitcher fluids and water to retain insects. Two forms of Nepenthes rafflesiana Jack ('elongate' and 'typical') with contrasting combinations of pitcher traits were compared. Wax crystals on the inner pitcher wall were found to be the most important trapping structure in the elongate form, whereas the typical form relied primarily on the peristome. The pitcher fluids of both forms, differing markedly in the degree of viscoelasticity, retained significantly more ants than water. The present results show that pitcher plants utilize several mechanisms for prey capture and retention, varying in efficiency and relative importance between forms. It is proposed that these differences represent alternative prey capture strategies that may provide a mechanism to reduce competition and facilitate species co-existence in nutrient-limited habitats.



Animals, Insecta, Magnoliopsida

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J Exp Bot

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Oxford University Press (OUP)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/E004156/1)