2022 Undergraduate Research Showcase

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Leonora Bittleston


Microbial communities are formed by groups of microorganisms, which impact the earth’s ecosystems. The way these organisms interact and function significantly affects how nutrients and energy move through our ecosystems. Discovering, analyzing, and defining the functions carried out by microbial communities can help reveal how ecosystems shift with changing conditions. However, it’s a challenge to analyze and track microbial community interactions or functions within large ecosystems. Focusing and analyzing the microbial communities in small ecosystems first, will help to study larger ecosystems. This study uses the small-scale ecosystem of the carnivorous pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, to investigate microbial community functions in the plant’s digestive fluid. The microbial organisms found in the pitcher’s digestive fluid help with the decomposition of captured insect prey. This study worked on answering the question: how does prey type affect pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, microbial community function? Four different insect prey types and an inoculant of bacterial communities originally isolated from three wild pitchers were used to simulate a pitcher plant ecosystem in glass tubes. Analyses of enzymatic tests and substrate utilization revealed how different insect prey affect microbial community functioning. The results show a significant difference in the microbial community function for the different insect prey. Different insect prey affects the pitcher plant’s microbial community function in chitinase, protease, and substrate utilization across 31 distinct compounds. Future studies will expand on other areas of microbial community function that affect how insect prey is digested in pitcher plants.


Research mentors: Dr. Leonora Bittleston and Jessica Bernardin



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