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Plant Biol (Stuttg). 2006 Nov;8(6):805-12.

Evidence of protocarnivory in triggerplants (Stylidium spp.; Stylidiaceae).

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Department of Biology, Indiana University Southeast, 4201 Grant Line Road, New Albany, IN 47150, USA.


Australian triggerplants (Stylidium spp.; Stylidiaceae) trap small insects using mucilage-secreting glandular hairs held at various points on their inflorescence stems and flower parts. Triggerplants are generally found in habitats also containing genera of plants already accepted as carnivorous, two of which (Drosera, Byblis) use the same basic mechanism as Stylidium to trap their prey. In the herbarium, sheets of triggerplants and of accepted groups of carnivorous plants held similar numbers of trapped insects, and in the field, trapping of small prey per unit of glandular surface area was the same at a given site for triggerplants and for nearby carnivorous plants at three sites in northern Australia. Even more important, protease activity was produced by glandular regions of both triggerplants and Drosera after induction with yeast extract. A panel of negative and positive controls, including use 1) of plants grown in tissue culture, which therefore lack surface microorganisms, and 2) of protease inhibitors, shows that this activity 1) is generated by the glandular regions of the triggerplant itself, not by organisms that might reside on the surface of the plants, and 2) is due to proteases. All of this evidence taken together provides strong evidence of protocarnivory in Stylidium, something not previously suggested in the scientific literature, though the insect trapping has been noted informally. Experiments remain to be done to determine nutrient uptake, so triggerplants may well be fully carnivorous.

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