Carnivorous Plant in Borneo Has Symbiotic Relationship With Ants

Posted on May 11, 2012

The carnivorous plant, Nepenthes bicalcarata, which grows in the nutrient-poor peat swamp forests of Borneo, has been found to have a symbiotic relationship with the ant species Camponotus schmitzi. The ants feed on nectar secreted by the pitcher plant. They also consume part of the prey that they help to catch and remove from the digestive fluid. In return, the ant provides nutrients for the plant through its feces. You can see more images of the ants interacting with the plants here.

The researchers suspect the ants, which inhabit the plant, benefit the plant by removing large prey (or too numerous of prey) that might overwhelm the plant by releasing large amounts of ammonia into the pitcher fluid. The ants also defend the plant by attacking a type of weevil that would feed on and destroy developing pitcher buds.

Vincent Bazile and researchers from University Montpellier 2, CNRS, INRA (UMR AMAP in France) and from the Universities of Brunei and Royal Roads (Canada), also found that plants inhabited by the ants have a larger biomass and produced more, larger leaves. The researchers found that plants lacking the ants were nutrient stressed.

The research paper can be found here on PLoS One.


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