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Peng Gao

Balancing the costs and benefits of botanical carnivory: A case study with the venus flytrap 

From a quarter of a million of all known vascular plants, only around 300 species display a carnivorous habit of life. Botanical carnivory evolved independently several times, but is restricted to severely nutrient-limited, moist and sunny sites. The venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) shows perhaps the most extreme adaptation to carnivory. It actively catches prey by means of intricate snap-traps. Snap-traps are comparatively expensive structures to acquire mineral nutrients, as they are inefficient for photosynthesis, while the production and secretion of digestive enzymes consume a lot of energy. On the other hand, it is believed that acquisition of insect-derived, organic nitrogen could enhance the photosynthetic performance and growth of Dionaea. Nowadays, such benefits seem to yield a competitive advantage over ‘conventional’ plants, at least on some certain, nitrogen-poor sites. Nonetheless, the forces that drove the evolution of snap-traps in Dionaea are hardly understood. This project seeks to characterize the trade-off between the costs and benefits of botanical carnivory under different scenarios. We will study photosynthesis, respiration and growth in response to different degrees of feeding prey, with or without soil-nitrogen available to the plants. We further aim at identifying the physiological mechanisms that help balancing the costs and benefits of catching prey, and subsequent uptake of insect-derived nitrogen. In addition to 13C and 15N-tracer studies, we will quantify transcripts that code for proteins involved in the foliar uptake and assimilation of nitrogen, and for those that lie at the interface between C- and N-metabolism. In addition, we take a closer look at the mechanisms used by Dionaea to attract insects, in particular the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

 

Supervisors: Heinz Rennenberg; Jörg Kruse; Anne Honsel; Jürgen Kreuzwieser; Tim Burzlaff

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