(ORDO NEWS) — Although carnivorous Nepenthes plants are primarily known as “hunters” of insects, luring them into their deadly pitchers, some species have found that mammalian droppings are much more nutritious than beetles and flies.
Nepenthes are one of the most recognizable carnivorous plants on the planet, with their modified pitcher-shaped leaves exuding a sweet scent that lures insects and makes them fall right into the mixture of digestive enzymes.
Caught animals provide the plant with nitrogen and other valuable microelements, which are poor in mountain soils, where Nepenthes mainly grow.
However, not only insects can provide nutrients to Nepenthes: some species of these plants are now “repurposed” to collect mammalian feces, which turned out to be much more nutritious than “traditional food”.
To do this, the plant has to go to some physiological excess (for example, to produce more nectar containing a natural laxative), but the benefit from the resulting litter more than covers them.
An international team of researchers from the UK, Malaysia, Germany and Australia studied the isotopic enrichment of Nepenthes tissue samples to determine how much nitrogen and carbon the plant receives from the environment and from what sources.
They compared species that collect mammalian droppings with species that still specialize in insects and non-carnivorous plants.
It turned out that the tissues of all carnivorous plants contained more of the heavy isotope nitrogen-15, obtained from animal food, than the tissues of ordinary plants.
Among the Nepenthes, those who diversified their “menu” with feces received the greatest benefit: their tissues contained almost twice as much nitrogen as the tissues of the insectivorous Nepenthes.
Thus, coprophagy has proven to be highly beneficial to the Nepenthes, although it is hardly to be expected that all carnivorous plants will begin to grow wide-mouthed jugs filled with purgative nectar, or shape the jugs suitable for bats to rest on.
After all, there are far fewer mammals in the rainforest than invertebrates, and while some non-Penthes will bet on “less but more satisfying,” others will be content with “tit in hand” and continue to attract butterflies and ants.
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