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Prey capture in the Venus flytrap: collection or selection?

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Charles Darwin first proposed that the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula Ellis) functions optimally by capturing and digesting large prey, the small prey escaping through openings at the trap margins. This hypothesis, although intuitively sound in the context of trap mechanics or plant allocation theory, has not been tested adequately with populations of plants growing in the field. Here, with traps collected in the endemic habitat over 9 months, we show that prey capture in the Venus flytrap is opportunistic rather than selective. While there was no effect of trap size on prey capture success, there was a significant but weak positive relationship between trap length and prey length. Prey sizes were well below the theoretical maximum holding capacities of traps and relatively small insects were represented across the range of trap sizes. Our results show that prey capture was not biased toward large invertebrates. Instead, we suggest that nonselective prey capture across the observed range of trap sizes is the best-fit explanation of trap function in the context of relatively limited ability to change allocation in response to sudden increases in resource availability.

Charles Darwin a le premier proposé que la dionée attrape-mouche (Dionaea muscipula Ellis) fonctionnerait le mieux en capturant et en digérant de larges proies, les petites proies s’échappant par les ouvertures au pourtour de la trappe. Cette hypothèse, bien qu’intuitivement sensée lorsqu’on la place dans le contexte de la mécanique de la trappe ou théorie de l’allocation de la plante, n’a jamais été vérifiée adéquatement sur des populations vivant en nature. À partir de trappes récoltées dans un habitat endémique pendant neuf mois, les auteurs montrent que la capture des proies par la dionée est opportuniste plutôt que sélective. Alors que l’on n’observe aucun effet de la dimension de la trappe sur le succès de capture des proies, on retrouve une relation faible, mais positive entre la longueur de la trappe et la longueur des proies. On observe une capture des proies bien en deçà de la capacité des trappes et des insectes relativement petits se retrouvent sur l’ensemble des dimensions de la trappe. Les résultats montrent que la capture des proies n’est pas biaisée en faveur de grands invertébrés. On suggère plutôt qu’une capture non sélective sur l’ensemble des dimensions des trappes constitue la meilleure adéquation du fonctionnement de la trappe, lorsqu’on se place dans le contexte d'une capacité relativement limitée pour changer l’allocation en réaction à des augmentations subites de la disponibilité de la ressource.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2009

More about this publication?
  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal features comprehensive research articles and notes in all segments of plant sciences, including cell and molecular biology, ecology, mycology and plant-microbe interactions, phycology, physiology and biochemistry, structure and development, genetics, systematics, and phytogeography. It also publishes commentary and review articles on topics of current interest, contributed by internationally recognized scientists.

    Previously published as the Canadian Journal of Botany
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