You are here

Harvard Forest >

Harvard Forest Symposium Abstract 2014

  • Title: Convergent evolution and community formation in carnivorous pitcher plants
  • Primary Author: Leonora Bittleston (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • Additional Authors: Naomi Pierce (Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology); Anne Pringle (University of Wisconsin - Madison)
  • Abstract:

    Convergence occurs across plants, mammals, and reptiles, as selective forces in similar habitats—but different parts of the world—shape evolutionary change. Carnivorous pitcher plants hold communities of invertebrates and microbes within their structures. Pitcher plants have evolved separately in the Americas (family Sarraceniaceae) and in Southeast Asia (family Nepenthaceae). These similar systems can be used to examine whether the communities in pitchers reflect the same pattern of convergence as their hosts, and to what extent similar habitats may have influenced the structure and assembly of their respective pitcher communities. The current experiment at Harvard Forest tests if insect and microbial communities forming inside Sarracenia purpurea pitcher plants can assemble and survive within convergent Nepenthes hosts placed into a Sarracenia habitat. In the summer of 2013, four species of Nepenthes pitcher plants and three species of Sarracenia plants growing in small pots were put out at Tom Swamp. Plants were placed when pitchers were about to open, and pitchers were marked and studied for 20-49 days. Plants were introduced into the bog in four different rounds throughout the summer. Fluid was collected and preserved from the pitchers of experimental potted plants, native bog plants, and control glass tubes at different points, for future DNA extraction and community analysis. At the end of each round any remaining fluid was extracted, experimental pitchers were cut from the plants, and the potted plants and controls were removed from the bog. Preliminary analyses indicate that the pitcher plant mosquito larvae, normally only associated with Sarracenia purpurea, also colonized and survived within Nepenthes pitchers, although at low frequencies. No mosquito larvae were found in control glass tubes. Continuing research will reveal if pitcher plant microbial communities show similar patterns of Nepenthes colonization.

  • Research Category: Biodiversity Studies, Physiological Ecology, Population Dynamics, and Species Interactions