Adaptations to novel habitats in Sarracenia purpurea

Project Overview
Project Abstract: 
Scientists hope to understand adaptations which allow organisms to expand beyond habitats in which they originally evolved. Carnivorous plants were thought to have originated in ecosystems that are both low in nitrogen and high in sunlight. Because they are no longer limited by carbon capture due to high sunlight availability, energy can be expended into creating tissue for prey capture instead of carbon capture. This ability to capture additional nitrogen in the form of animal prey allows them to efficiently compete against plants that do not utilize prey derived nitrogen. Sarrecenia purpurea, the purple pitcher plant, is a carnivorous plant that is found primarily in the nitrogen poor bogs of the northern United States and throughout eastern Canada. Occasionally, however, this plant is found in other aquatic ecosystems, such as the interdunal swale of Grass Bay of northern Michigan. This ecosystem, unlike the common habitat of carnivorous plants, is high in nitrogen. Furthermore, S. purpurea is often found under fairly dense canopy, also contrary to the common habitat of these plants. We hope to understand the mechanism through which S. purpurea is able to exist in these atypical habitats by examining leaf morphology, green to red pigment ratios, and percentage of prey derived nitrogen between pitchers of shaded and sunny regions at Mud Lake Bog (a more typical carnivorous plant habitat) and Grass Bay. It is predicted that because S. purpurea at Grass Bay is less nitrogen limiting, shaded S. purpurea here will be able to allocate less energy to prey capture and more towards carbon capture than shade S. purpurea at Mud Lake Bog. Thus, differences between S. purpurea pitcher morphologies, percent of prey derived nitrogen, and red to green pigmentation ratios in sunny and shaded regions will be greater than at Mud Lake Bog.
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