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Ann Bot. 2007 Sep;100(3):527-36. Epub 2007 Jul 30.

Carnivorous syndrome in Asian pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes.

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Department of Plant Physiology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Comenius University, Mlynská dolina B-2, SK-84215 Bratislava, Slovak Republic.



Pitcher plants Nepenthes alata and N. mirabilis are carnivorous species with leaves composed of a photosynthetic part (lamina) and a pitcher trap. This characteristic permitted direct physiological and anatomical comparison between these two distinct parts of the leaves to determine those features involved in the 'carnivorous syndrome', which include low net photosynthetic assimilation rate (A(N)) and low photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency (PNUE).


Photosynthetic rate (A(N)) and respiration rate (R(d)) were measured gasometrically, chlorophyll concentration was determined spectrophotometrically and nitrogen concentration was determined using a CHN elemental analyser in lamina and trap separately. Anatomy of N. alata was observed using light, fluorescence and transmission electron microscopy. A(N), foliar nitrogen and chlorophyll concentration were also compared with values for other carnivorous plant species (genera Sarracenia, Drosera) that combine both autotrophic and carnivorous functions into the same physical organ.


It was found that the A(N) in Nepenthes lamina was low and PNUE was only slightly higher or similar in comparison with other carnivorous plants. It was not observed that the pitcher had a higher R(d) than the lamina, but A(N) in the pitcher was significantly lower than in the lamina. Nepenthes possesses a cluster of characters that could result in reduced photosynthesis in the pitcher and be responsible for carnivorous function of the leaf: replacement of chlorophyll-containing cells with digestive glands, low chlorophyll and nitrogen concentration, compact mesophyll with a small portion of intercellular spaces, absence of palisade parenchyma and low stomatal density.


Low photosynthetic capacity, nitrogen efficiency, chlorophyll and nitrogen concentration of Nepenthes pitchers was found, together with a set of features that characterized the carnivorous syndrome. Dual use of leaves for photosynthesis and nutrient gain can decrease photosynthetic efficiency in carnivorous plants in general.

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