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Concept: Sarracenia purpurea


Trade-offs among species' ecological interactions is a pervasive explanation for species coexistence. The traits associated with trade-offs are typically measured to mechanistically explain species coexistence at a single spatial scale. However, species potentially interact at multiple scales and this may be reflected in the traits among coexisting species. I quantified species' ecological traits associated with the trade-offs expected at both local (competitive ability and predator tolerance) and regional (competitive ability and colonization rate) community scales. The most common species (four protozoa and a rotifer) from the middle trophic level of a pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) inquiline community were used to link species traits to previously observed patterns of species diversity and abundance. Traits associated with trade-offs (competitive ability, predator tolerance, and colonization rate) and other ecological traits (size, growth rate, and carrying capacity) were measured for each of the focal species. Traits were correlated with one another with a negative relationship indicative of a trade-off. Protozoan and rotifer species exhibited a negative relationship between competitive ability and predator tolerance, indicative of coexistence at the local community scale. There was no relationship between competitive ability and colonization rate. Size, growth rate, and carrying capacity were correlated with each other and the trade-off traits: Size was related to both competitive ability and predator tolerance, but growth rate and carrying capacity were correlated with predator tolerance. When partial correlations were conducted controlling for size, growth rate and carrying capacity, the trade-offs largely disappeared. These results imply that body size is the trait that provides the basis for ecological interactions and trade-offs. Altogether, this study showed that the examination of species' traits in the context of coexistence at different scales can contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying community structure.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Pitcher plant, Trophic level, Trophic dynamics, Carrying capacity, Sarracenia purpurea, Sarracenia


BACKGROUND: The purple pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea L., is a widely distributed species in North America with a history of use as both a marketed pain therapy and a traditional medicine in many aboriginal communities. Among the Cree of Eeyou Istchee in northern Quebec, the plant is employed to treat symptoms of diabetes and the leaf extract demonstrates multiple anti-diabetic activities including cytoprotection in an in vitro model of diabetic neuropathy. The current study aimed to further investigate this activity by identifying the plant parts and secondary metabolites that contribute to these cytoprotective effects. METHODS: Ethanolic extracts of S. purpurea leaves and roots were separately administered to PC12 cells exposed to glucose toxicity with subsequent assessment by two cell viability assays. Assay-guided fractionation of the active extract and fractions was then conducted to identify active principles. Using high pressure liquid chromatography together with mass spectrometry, the presence of identified actives in both leaf and root extracts were determined. RESULTS: The leaf extract, but not that of the root, prevented glucose-mediated cell loss in a concentration-dependent manner. Several fractions elicited protective effects, indicative of multiple active metabolites, and, following subfractionation of the polar fraction, hyperoside (quercetin-3-O-galactoside) and morroniside were isolated as active constituents. Phytochemical analysis confirmed the presence of hyperoside in the leaf but not root extract and, although morroniside was detected in both organs, its concentration was seven times higher in the leaf. CONCLUSION: Our results not only support further study into the therapeutic potential and safety of S. purpurea as an alternative and complementary treatment for diabetic complications associated with glucose toxicity but also identify active principles that can be used for purposes of standardization and quality control.

Concepts: Nutrition, Diabetes mellitus, Cell culture, Pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, Sarracenia, Sarraceniaceae, Sarracenia rosea


Slow changes in underlying state variables can lead to “tipping points,” rapid transitions between alternative states (“regime shifts”) in a wide range of complex systems. Tipping points and regime shifts routinely are documented retrospectively in long time series of observational data. Experimental induction of tipping points and regime shifts is rare, but could lead to new methods for detecting impending tipping points and forestalling regime shifts. By using controlled additions of detrital organic matter (dried, ground arthropod prey), we experimentally induced a shift from aerobic to anaerobic states in a miniature aquatic ecosystem: the self-contained pools that form in leaves of the carnivorous northern pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea. In unfed controls, the concentration of dissolved oxygen ([O2]) in all replicates exhibited regular diurnal cycles associated with daytime photosynthesis and nocturnal plant respiration. In low prey-addition treatments, the regular diurnal cycles of [O2] were disrupted, but a regime shift was not detected. In high prey-addition treatments, the variance of the [O2] time series increased until the system tipped from an aerobic to an anaerobic state. In these treatments, replicate [O2] time series predictably crossed a tipping point at ∼45 h as [O2] was decoupled from diurnal cycles of photosynthesis and respiration. Increasing organic-matter loading led to predictable changes in [O2] dynamics, with high loading consistently driving the system past a well-defined tipping point. The Sarracenia microecosystem functions as a tractable experimental system in which to explore the forecasting and management of tipping points and alternative regimes.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Cellular respiration, Pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, Sarracenia, Sarraceniaceae


The fluids ofNepenthespitcher plants are habitats to many specialized animals known as inquilines, which facilitate the conversion of prey protein into pitcher-absorbable nitrogen forms such as ammonium.Xenoplatyura beaveri(Diptera: Mycetophilidae) is a predatory dipteran inquiline that inhabits the pitchers ofNepenthes ampullariaLarvae ofX. beavericonstruct sticky webs over the fluid surface ofN. ampullariato ensnare emerging adult dipteran inquilines. However, the interaction betweenX. beaveriand its host has never been examined before, and it is not known ifX. beaverican contribute to nutrient sequestration inN. ampullaria. Xenoplatyura beaveriindividuals were reared in artificial pitchers in the laboratory on a diet of emergentTripteroides tenaxmosquitoes, and the ammonium concentration of the pitcher fluids was measured over time. Fluid ammonium concentration in tubes containingX. beaveriwas significantly greater than those of the controls. Furthermore, fluid ammonium concentrations increased greatly afterX. beaverilarvae metamorphosed, although the cause of this increase could not be identified. Our results show that a terrestrial, inquiline predator can contribute significantly to nutrient sequestration in the phytotelma it inhabits, and suggest that this interaction has a net mutualistic outcome for both species.

Concepts: Plant, Predation, Symbiosis, Nitrogen, Carnivorous plant, Pitcher plant, Carnivore, Sarracenia purpurea


Carnivorous pitcher plants Sarracenia purpurea host diverse eukaryotic and bacterial communities which aid in insect prey digestion, but little is known about the functional processes mediated by the microbial communities. This study aimed to connect pitcher community diversity with functional nutrient transformation processes, identifying bacterial taxa, and measuring regulation of hydrolytic enzyme activity in response to prey and alternative nutrient sources. Genetic analysis identified diverse bacterial taxa known to produce hydrolytic enzyme activities. Chitinase, protease, and phosphatase activities were measured using fluorometric assays. Enzyme activity in field pitchers was positively correlated with bacterial abundance, and activity was suppressed by antibiotics suggesting predominantly bacterial sources of chitinase and protease activity. Fungi, algae, and rotifers observed could also contribute enzyme activity, but fresh insect prey released minimal chitinase activity. Activity of chitinase and proteases was upregulated in response to insect additions, and phosphatase activity was suppressed by phosphate additions. Particulate organic P in prey was broken down, appearing as increasing dissolved organic and inorganic P pools within 14 days. Chitinase and protease were not significantly suppressed by availability of dissolved organic substrates, though organic C and N stimulated bacterial growth, resulting in elevated enzyme activity. This comprehensive field and experimental study show that pitcher plant microbial communities dynamically regulate hydrolytic enzyme activity, to digest prey nutrients to simpler forms, mediating biogeochemical nutrient transformations and release of nutrients for microbial and host plant uptake.

Concepts: Enzyme, Eukaryote, Plant, Fungus, Protease, Carnivorous plant, Pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea


The importance of predators in influencing community structure is a well-studied area of ecology. However, few studies test ecological hypotheses of predation in multi-predator microbial communities. The phytotelmic community found within the water-filled leaves of the pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, exhibits a simple trophic structure that includes multiple protozoan predators and microbial prey. Using this system, we sought to determine whether different predators target distinct microorganisms, how interactions among protozoans affect resource (microorganism) use, and how predator diversity affects prey community diversity. In particular, we endeavored to determine if protozoa followed known ecological patterns such as keystone predation or generalist predation. For these experiments, replicate inquiline microbial communities were maintained for seven days with five protozoan species. Microbial community structure was determined by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing (iTag) and analysis. Compared to the control (no protozoa), two ciliates followed patterns of keystone predation by increasing microbial evenness. In pairwise competition treatments with a generalist flagellate, prey communities resembled the microbial communities of the respective keystone predator in monoculture. The relative abundance of the most common bacterial Operational Taxonomic Unit (OTU) in our system decreased compared to the control in the presence of these ciliates. This OTU was 98% similar to a known chitin degrader and nitrate reducer, important functions for the microbial community and the plant host. Collectively, the data demonstrated that predator identity had a greater effect on prey diversity and composition than overall predator diversity.

Concepts: Microbiology, Eukaryote, Predation, Ecology, 16S ribosomal RNA, Protist, Apex predator, Sarracenia purpurea


Carnivory in pitcher plants generally involves digestion of prey, by the plant itself, by symbionts, or both. While symbionts appear to be important in the digestion of prey in Sarracenia purpurea, the importance of pitcher-derived enzymes is less well documented. Our goal was to reduce microbial numbers in pitcher fluid in order to measure the acid phosphatase activity attributable to the pitchers themselves. Preliminary experiments indicated that various antibiotics were minimally effective at reducing microbial populations and that antibiotic-resistant microbes were easily cultured from pitcher fluid. Consequently, we measured the abundance of culturable microbes in every sample taken for the measurement of acid phosphatase activity. Pitchers fed with one sterilized ant had higher levels of acid phosphatase activity than unfed pitchers. Older pitchers were more responsive to feeding than young pitchers. Pitchers with high levels of microbes (on Day 5) had higher acid phosphatase activity than pitchers with low levels of microbes. However, fed pitchers were not more likely to have higher microbe levels and microbe levels were not related to pitcher age. When fluid samples from inside the pitcher were compared to appropriate controls incubated outside the pitcher, acid phosphatase activity was higher inside the pitcher. Results from the feeding experiments are consistent with a primary role of microbes in the digestion of prey in pitchers of S. purpurea. However, the relationship between pitcher age and enzyme activity is not a function of microbes in the pitcher fluid and may depend on enzymes produced by the plant. Our methods would not detect microbes embedded on the inner surface of the pitcher; and if they survived the alcohol rinse and antibiotics, we cannot rule out microbes as the source of the relationship between pitcher age and acid phosphatase activity.

Concepts: Bacteria, Enzyme, Antibiotic resistance, Microorganism, Pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea


A key question in biology is how the endless diversity of forms found in nature evolved. Understanding the cellular basis of this diversity has been aided by advances in non-model experimental systems, quantitative image analysis tools, and modeling approaches. Recent work in plants highlights the importance of cell wall and cuticle modifications for the emergence of diverse forms and functions. For example, explosive seed dispersal in Cardamine hirsuta depends on the asymmetric localization of lignified cell wall thickenings in the fruit valve. Similarly, the iridescence of Hibiscus trionum petals relies on regular striations formed by cuticular folds. Moreover, NAC transcription factors regulate the differentiation of lignified xylem vessels but also the water-conducting cells of moss that lack a lignified secondary cell wall, pointing to the origin of vascular systems. Other novel forms are associated with modified cell growth patterns, including oriented cell expansion or division, found in the long petal spurs of Aquilegia flowers, and the Sarracenia purpurea pitcher leaf, respectively. Another good example is the regulation of dissected leaf shape in C. hirsuta via local growth repression, controlled by the REDUCED COMPLEXITY HD-ZIP class I transcription factor. These studies in non-model species often reveal as much about fundamental processes of development as they do about the evolution of form.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Gene expression, Archaea, Bacteria, Cell wall, Plant morphology, Sarracenia purpurea


Several fast-intermediate growing, acid-fast, scotochromogenic bacteria were isolated from Sarracenia purpurea pitcher waters in Minnesota sphagnum peat bogs. Two strains (DL734T and DL739T) were among these isolates. Based upon 16S rRNA sequences, the phylogenetic positions of both strains is in the genus Mycobacterium with no obvious relation to any characterized type strains of mycobacteria. Phenotypic characterization revealed neither strain was similar to the type strains of known species of the genus Mycobacterium in the collective properties of growth, pigmentation, or fatty acid composition. Strain DL734T grew between 28°C to 32°C, was positive for 3-day arylsulfatase production, and was negative for Tween 80 hydrolysis, urease, and nitrate reduction. Strain DL739T grew between 28°C to 37°C, is positive for Tween 80 hydrolysis, urea and nitrate reduction, and 3-day arylsulfatase production. Both strains are catalase-negative while only DL739T grew with 5% NaCl. Fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) profiles were unique for each strain. DL739T shows an ability to survive 8°C with little to no cellular replication and is thus considered to be psychrotolerant. Therefore, strains DL734T and DL739T represent two novel species of the genus Mycobacterium with the proposed names Mycobacterium sarraceniae sp. nov. and Mycobacterium helvum sp. nov., respectively. The type strains are DL734T (=JCM 30395 T =NCCB 100519T) and DL739T (=JCM 30396 T =NCCB 100520T), respectively.

Concepts: Fatty acid, Carboxylic acid, Ester, Hydrolysis, Carnivorous plant, Pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, Sarracenia


Climate change research has demonstrated that changing temperatures will have an effect on community-level dynamics by altering species' survival rates, shifting species' distributions, and ultimately, creating mismatches in community interactions. However, most of this work has focused on increasing temperature, and still little is known about how the variation in temperature extremes will affect community dynamics. We used the model aquatic community held within the leaves of the carnivorous plant, Sarracenia purpurea, to test how food-web dynamics will be affected by high temperature variation. We tested the community response of the first (bacterial density), second (protist diversity and composition), and third trophic level (predator mortality), and measured community respiration. We collected early and late successional stage inquiline communities from S. purpurea from two North American and two European sites with similar average July temperature. We then created a common garden experiment in which replicates of these communities underwent either high or normal daily temperature variation, with the average temperature equal among treatments. We found an impact of temperature variation on the first two, but not on the third trophic level. For bacteria in the high variation treatment, density experienced an initial boost in growth but then decreased quickly through time. For protists in the high variation treatment, alpha-diversity decreased faster than in the normal variation treatment, beta-diversity increased only in the European sites, and protist community composition tended to diverge more in the late successional stage. The mortality of the predatory mosquito larvae was unaffected by temperature variation. Community respiration was lower in the high variation treatment, indicating a lower ecosystem functioning. Our results highlight clear impacts of temperature variation. A more mechanistic understanding of the effects that temperature, and especially temperature variation, will have on community dynamics is still greatly needed. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Bacteria, Ecology, Temperature, Affect, Microorganism, Food chain, Copyright, Sarracenia purpurea