Thesis: How hungry are carnivorous plants? Investigating dependence on heterotrophic nutrition using a stable isotope approach
Carnivorous plants are capable of capturing and digesting prey to gain a nutritional benefit. Globally, there is an incredible diversity of carnivorous plants, with more than 600 species spread across five orders, eleven families, and at least eighteen genera. Several trapping mechanisms have evolved, including snap-traps, fly-paper traps, pitcher traps, suction traps and eel traps.
Western Australia is lucky to host nearly a third of the world's carnivorous plant species, including sundews (>100 Drosera species), bladderworts (>50 Utricularia species), rainbow plants (7 Byblis species) the endemic Albany pitcher plant (Cephalotus follicularis), and the rare aquatic waterwheel plant (Aldrovanda vesiculosa). No other place on earth provides such a unique research opportunity to undertake comparative studies of carnivorous plant nutrition. My PhD research used natural abundance stable isotope techniques to quantify each species' reliance on heterotrophic nutrition, across a broad range of habitats and climate types.
Why my research is important
Carnivorous plants have long been a source of fascination for scientists and naturalists alike, beginning with Charles Darwin who conducted the first scientific studies on carnivorous plants, published in his 1875 treatise "Insectivorous Plants". Darwin believed carnivorous plants to be some of "the most wonderful plants in the world". Unfortunately though, many carnivorous plant species are under threat from the loss and disturbance of natural habitats, as well as the illegal collection of species from the wild. Research into the fundamental biology and ecology of these species is essential to enhance our understanding of the nutrition, evolution, and diversification of carnivorous plants, and to better inform conservation and management strategies for threatened native species.