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Ann Bot. 2009 Aug;104(2):307-14. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcp121. Epub 2009 May 19.

Feeding enhances photosynthetic efficiency in the carnivorous pitcher plant Nepenthes talangensis.

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  • 1Department of Plant Physiology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Comenius University, Mlynská dolina B-2, Bratislava, Slovak Republic.



Cost-benefit models predict that carnivory can increase the rate of photosynthesis (A(N)) by leaves of carnivorous plants as a result of increased nitrogen absorption from prey. However, the cost of carnivory includes decreased A(N) and increased respiration rates (R(D)) of trapping organs. The principal aim of the present study was to assess the costs and benefits of carnivory in the pitcher plant Nepenthes talangensis, leaves of which are composed of a lamina and a pitcher trap, in response to feeding with beetle larvae.


Pitchers of Nepenthes grown at 200 micromol m(-2) s(-1) photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) were fed with insect larvae for 2 months, and the effects on the photosynthetic processes were then assessed by simultaneous measurements of gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence of laminae and pitchers, which were correlated with nitrogen, carbon and total chlorophyll concentrations.


A(N) and maximum (F(v)/F(m)) and effective quantum yield of photosystem II (Phi(PSII)) were greater in the fed than unfed laminae but not in the fed compared with unfed pitchers. Respiration rate was not significantly affected in fed compared with unfed plants. The unfed plants had greater non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) of chlorophyll fluorescence. Higher NPQ in unfed lamina did not compensate for their lower Phi(PSII), resulting in lower photochemical quenching (QP) and thus higher excitation pressure on PSII. Biomass and nitrogen and chlorophyll concentration also increased as a result of feeding. The cost of carnivory was shown by lower A(N) and Phi(PSII) in pitchers than in laminae, but R(D) depended on whether it was expressed on a dry weight or a surface area basis. Correlation between nitrogen and A(N) in the pitchers was not found. Cost-benefit analysis showed a large beneficial effect on photosynthesis from feeding as light intensity increased from 200 to 1000 micromol m(-2) s(-1) PAR after which it did not increase further. All fed plants began to flower.


Feeding pitchers with insect larvae increases A(N) of leaf laminae, due to higher nutrient acquisition, with strong correlation with nitrogen concentration, but A(N) of pitchers does not increase, despite increased nitrogen concentration in their tissue. Increased A(N) improves growth and reproduction and is likely to increase the competitive advantage of carnivorous over non-carnivorous plants in nutrient-poor habitats.

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