Tropical Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes) Act as Ecological Filters by Altering Properties of Their Fluid Microenvironments
Characteristics of host species can alter how other, interacting species assemble into communities by acting as ecological filters. Pitchers of tropical pitcher plants (Nepenthes) host diverse communities of aquatic arthropods and microbes in nature. This plant genus exhibits considerable interspecific diversity in morphology and physiology; for example, different species can actively control the pH of their pitcher fluids and some species produce viscoelastic fluids. Our study investigated the extent to which Nepenthes species differentially regulate pitcher fluid traits under common garden conditions, and the effects that these trait differences had on their associated communities. Sixteen species of Nepenthes were reared together in the controlled environment of a glasshouse using commonly-sourced pH 6.5 water. We analyzed their bacterial and eukaryotic communities using metabarcoding techniques, and found that different plant species differentially altered fluid pH, viscosity, and color, and these had strong effects on the community structure of their microbiota. Nepenthes species can therefore act as ecological filters, cultivating distinctive microbial communities despite similar external conditions, and blurring the conceptual line between biotic and abiotic filters.
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Gilbert, Kadeem J.; Bittleston, Leonora S.; Tong, Wenfei; and Pierce, Naomi E.. (2020). "Tropical Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes) Act as Ecological Filters by Altering Properties of Their Fluid Microenvironments". Scientific Reports, 10, 4431-1 - 4431-13. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-61193-x