Quantification of insect nitrogen utilization by the venus fly trap Dionaea muscipula catching prey with highly variable isotope signatures.


Journal Article

Dionaea is a highly specialized carnivorous plant species with a unique mechanism for insect capture. The leaf is converted into an osmotically driven trap that closes when an insect triggers sensory trichomes. This study investigates the significance of insect capture for growth of Dionaea at different successional stages after a fire, under conditions where the prey is highly variable in its isotope signature. The contribution of insect-derived nitrogen (N) was estimated using the natural abundance of 15N. In contrast to previous 15N studies on carnivorous plants, the problem emerges that delta15N values of prey insects ranged between -4.47 per thousand (grasshoppers) and +7.21 per thousand (ants), a range that exceeds the delta15N values of non carnivorous reference plants (-4.2 per thousand) and soils (+3 per thousand). Thus, the isotope-mixing model used by Shearer and Kohl to estimate the amount of insect-derived N is not applicable. In a novel approach, the relationships of delta15N values of different organs with delta15N of trapping leaves were used to estimate N partitioning within the plant. It is estimated that soon after fire approximately 75% of the nitrogen is obtained from insects, regardless of plant size or developmental stage. The estimates are verified by calculating the average isotope signatures of insects from an isotope mass balance and comparing this with the average measured delta15N values of insects. It appears that for Dionaea to survive and reach the flowering stage, seedlings must first reach the 6th-leaf rosette stage, in which trap surface area nearly doubles and facilitates the capture of large insects. Large amounts of nitrogen thus made available to plants may facilitate an enhanced growth rate and the progressive production of additional large traps. Dionaea reaches a maximum abundance after fire when growth of the competing vegetation is suppressed. About 10 years after fire, when grasses and shrubs recover, Dionaea becomes overtopped by other species. This would not only reduce carbon assimilation but also the probability of catching larger prey. The amount of insect-derived nitrogen decreases to 46%, and Dionaea becomes increasingly dependent on N-supply from the soil. Competition for both light and N may cause the near disappearance of Dionaea in older stages of the fire succession.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Schulze, W; Schulze, ED; Schulze, I; Oren, R

Published Date

  • May 2001

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 52 / 358

Start / End Page

  • 1041 - 1049

PubMed ID

  • 11432920

Pubmed Central ID

  • 11432920

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1460-2431

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0022-0957

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/jexbot/52.358.1041


  • eng