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Am J Bot. 2005 Jul;92(7):1085-93. doi: 10.3732/ajb.92.7.1085.

The cost of carnivory for Darlingtonia californica (Sarraceniaceae): evidence from relationships among leaf traits.

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  • 1Harvard University, Harvard Forest, P.O. Box 68, Petersham, Massachusetts 01366 USA;


Scaling relationships among photosynthetic rate, foliar nutrient concentration, and leaf mass per unit area (LMA) have been observed for a broad range of plants. Leaf traits of the carnivorous pitcher plant Darlingtonia californica, endemic to southern Oregon and northern California, USA, differ substantially from the predictions of these general scaling relationships; net photosynthetic rates of Darlingtonia are much lower than predicted by general scaling relationships given observed foliar nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations and LMA. At five sites in the center of its range, leaf traits of Darlingtonia were strongly correlated with elevation and differed with soil calcium availability and bedrock type. The mean foliar N : P of 25.2 ± 15.4 of Darlingtonia suggested that these plants were P-limited, although N concentration in the substrate also was extremely low and prey capture was uncommon. Foliar N : P stoichiometry and the observed deviation of Darlingtonia leaf traits from predictions of general scaling relationships permit an initial assessment of the "cost of carnivory" in this species. Carnivory in plants is thought to have evolved in response to N limitation, but for Darlingtonia, carnivory is an evolutionary last resort when both N and P are severely limiting and photosynthesis is greatly reduced.

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