Arxiu d'etiquetes: organism

Carnivorous plants

The carnivorism is a nutrition style associated to animals, to the world of heterotrophs. But it has been seen that there are plants that are also able to feed on other organisms. They are called carnivorous plants and their strategies to capture dams are very different and curious.

WHAT IS A CARNIVOROUS PLANT?

A carnivorous plants , even being autotroph, get part of their nutritional supplement by feeding on animals, especially insects.

There are three basic requirements that  carnivorous plants must comply:

  • they must be able to attract, capture and kill the preys. To get their attention, they usually show reddish coloration and secrete nectar. Morphological and anatomical adaptations for retaining and killing the preys such as traps are used.
  • Digestion and absorbance of the nutrients releasedby the damn .
  • And finally, it has to draw significant benefit from the process.

Dionaea muscipula
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) (Author: Jason).

WHERE DO THEY LIVE?

Carnivorous plants are  not competitive in normal environments and tend to have a small root system, they need this specialization to allow them to grow faster. They are usually found in low mineralization soils, but with a high concentration of organic matter, sunny areas (as they still perform photosynthesis) and with  a high humidity.

Normally they are also calcifuges, i.e., they are not well adapted to alkaline soils and prefer acidic environments, where the source of calcium comes from the prey. They tend to inhabit soils with low oxygen and  saturated in water in a reducing environment. Some are aquatic and live either floating or submerged, but always near the surface.

TRAPS AND EXAMPLES

The capture system is quite diverse, but can be classified according to whether there is movement or not. We consider active strategies for those plants having mechanical or suction movements. Semi-active strategies which present mucilaginous glands and have movement and finally, passive ones, with no motion for prey capture. They can present mucilaginous glands or pitfall traps. Somes amples are given below.

ACTIVE TRAPS

Venus flytrap

In the case of this plant, the traps are mechanical and they are formed by two valves joined by a central axis. These valves are the result of non photosynthetic leave transformations. The stem acts as a petiole and performs photosynthesis, for this reason, it is thickened, increasing its surface and facilitating the process. Furthermore, the valves have nectar glands to attract preys and its perimeter is surrounded by teeth which help the capture, as when the trap is closed, the teeth overlay perfectly avoiding the animal’s escape..

But, what mechanism drives the closing? There’s a gigh number of triggers hairs inside the valves. When the dam is located on the trap and makes the trigger hairs move twice or more in less than 20 seconds, the valves close immediately.

In this vídeos From the BBC one (Youtube Channel: BBC) we can observe the whole process.

Utricularia, the bladderwort

This plant lives submerged near the surface and is known as the bladderwort, because it has bladder-like traps. The bladders are characterized for having sensitive hairs that activate the suction mechanism of the dam. Then, the bladder generates a very strong internal pressure that sucks water in, dragging the animal to the trap. It’s volume can increase up to 40% when water enters.

In the following video we can see the bladderwort trapping a tadpole of cane toad (Youtube Channel: Philip Stoddard):

SEMIACTIVE TRAPS

When I caught you, you won’t be able to escape

The presence of stalked mucilaginous glands is not unique in the carnivorous plant world, many plants use them as a defence or to prevent water loss. But, some carnivorous plants they are used to capture animals, as the sundews (Drosera) does.

The glands presents on the leaves of the sundews are formed by a stalk and an apical cell that releases mucilage. This substance attracts preys by its smell and taste. When the dam is located on the leaves, some drops of mucilage join each other to form a viscous mass that will cover all the prey, preventing its escape. We note that the glands have some mobility and move themselves to get in contact with the prey. Also, as a result, the leaf wrappes, facilitating the subsequent digestion.

The following video shows the operation of this mechanism (Youtube Channel: TheShopofHorrors):

PASSIVE TRAPS

Don’t get to sticky! 

The Drosophyllum‘s case is very similar to the previous one, but this time the stalked mucilaginous glands don’t have mobility and, therefore, the leaf doesn’t have either. The insect gets caught just because it is hooked on it’s sticky trap and cannot escape.

Drosophyllum
Insects trapped by Drosophyllum‘s stalked mucilaginous glands  (Author: incidencematrix).

Carefull not to fall!

Finally, we see the passive pitfall traps. They sometimes have a lid that protects them from an excess wàter getting in, even though it isn’t a part of the trap mechanism. The pitfall traps can be formed by the leaf itself or by an additional structure that is originated from an extension of the midrib (the tendril). The tendril lowers to ground level and then forms the trap.

Nepenthes
Nepenthes (Author: Nico Nelson).

Dams are attracted to these traps due to nectar glands located inside. Once inside, going out is very complicated!  Walls may be viscous,  have downwardly inclined hairs that hinder to escape or present translucent spots that suggest the prey that there’s an exit, acting like windows , confusing and exhausting the prey, making it fall to the bottom, where it will drown. Other species also release substances that stun the preys, preventing them from running away.

Heliamphora
Heliamphora (Author: Brian Gratwicke).

In some cases, large animals have fallen into these traps, though it is considered more as an effect of “bad-luck” than the plants supposed diet, though some traps measure up to 20cm long.

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The plants and the climate change

Since a few years ago, we have heard about the climate change. Nowadays, it is already evident and also a concern. This not only affects to us, the humans, but to all kind of life. It has been talked enough about the global warming, but perhaps, what happens to the vegetation has not been much diffused. There are many things affected by climate change and vegetation is also one of them. In addition, the changes in this also affect us. But, what are these changes? how can the vegetation regulate them? And how we can help to mitigate them through plants?

CHANGES ON PLANTS

Biomes distribution

In general, due to climate change, an increase of precipitations in some parts of the world are expected, while in others a decrease is awaited. A global temperature increment is also denoted. This leads to an alteration in the location of the biomes, large units of vegetation (e.g.: savannas, tropical forests, tundras, etc.).

biomes
Biome triangle classified by latitude, altitude and humidity (Author: Peter Halasaz).

On the other hand, there is an upward trend in the distribution of species in the high latitudes and a detriment in the lower latitudes. This has serious associated problems; the change in the species distribution affects their conservation and genetic diversity. Consequently, the marginal populations in lower latitudes, which have been considered very important for the long-term conservation of genetic diversity and due their evolutionary potential, are threatened by this diversity loss. And conversely, the populations in high latitudes would be affected by the arrival of other competing species that could displace those already present, being as invasive.

Species distribution

Within the scenario of climate change, species have some ability to adjust their distribution and to adapt to this.

But, what type of species may be responding more quickly to this change? It appears that those with a faster life cycle and a higher dispersion capacity will be showing more adaptability and a better response. This could lead to a loss of some plants with slower rates.

Galactites tomentosa
The Purple milk Thistle (Galactites tomentosa) is a plant with a fast life cycle and high distribution capacity  (Author: Ghislain118).

One factor that facilitates adjustment in the distribution is the presence of wildlife corridors: these are parts of the geographical area that enable connectivity and movement of species from one population to another. They are important because they prevent that some species can remain isolated and because they can also allow the movement to new regions.

Another factor is the altitudinal gradient, which provides shelter for many species, facilitates the presence of wildlife corridors and permits redistribution of species along altitude. Therefore, in those territories where there is greater altitudinal range, the conservation is favored.

In short, the ability of species to cope with climate change depends on the plant characteristics and the territory attributes. And, conversely, the species vulnerability to climate change occurs when the speed to displace their distribution or adapt their lives is less than the climate change velocity.

At internal level

Climate change also affects the plant as an organism, as it causes changes in their metabolism and phenology (periodic or seasonal rhythms of the plant).

One of the effects that pushes the climate change is the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration increase in the atmosphere. This could produce a fertilization phenomenon of vegetation. Due the COincrease in the atmosphere it also increases the uptake by plants, thus increasing the photosynthesis and allowing greater assimilation. But, this is not all advantages, because for this an important water loss occurs due that the stomata (structures that allow gas exchange and transpiration) remain open long time to incorporate CO2. So, there are opposing effects and fertilization will depend on the plant itself, but the local climate will also determine this process. Many studies have shown that various plants react differently to the COincrease, since the compound affects various physiological processes and therefore there are not unique responses. Then, we find a factor that alters the plant metabolism and we cannot predict what will be the effects. Furthermore, this fertilizer effect is limited by the nutrients amount and without them production slows.

fotosíntesi
Photosynthesis process (Author: At09kg).

On the other hand, we must not forget that climate change also alters the weather and that this affects the vegetation growth and its phenology. This can have even an impact on a global scale; for example, could produce an imbalance in the production of cultivated plants for food.

PLANTS AS CLIMATE REGULATORS

Although one cannot speak of plants as regulators of global climate, it is clear that there is a relationship between climate and vegetation. However, this relationship is somewhat complicated because the vegetation has both effects of cooling and heating the weather.

The vegetation decreases the albedo; dark colours absorb more solar radiation and, in consequence, less sunlight is reflected outward. And besides, as the plants surface is usually rough, the absorption is increased. Consequently, if there is more vegetation, local temperature (transmitted heat) intensifies.

But, on the other hand, by increasing vegetation there is more evapotranspiration (set of water evaporation from a surface and transpiration through the plant). So, the heat is spent on passing the liquid water to gas, leading to a cooling effect. In addition, evapotranspiration also helps increase local rainfall.

Biophysical effects of landcover
Biophysical effects of different land uses and its consequences on the local climate. (From Jackson et al. 2008. Environmental Research Letters.3: article 0440066).

Therefore, it is an ambiguous process and in certain environments the cooling effect outweighs, while in others the heating effect has more relevance.

MITIGATION

Nowadays, there are several proposals to reduce climate change, but, in which way can the plants cooperate?

Plant communities can act as a sinks, carbon reservoirs, because through CO2 assimilation, they help to offset carbon emissions. Proper management of agricultural and forest ecosystems can stimulate capture and storage of carbon. On the other hand, if deforestation were reduced and protection of natural habitats and forests increased, emissions would be diminished and this would stimulate the sink effect. Still, there is a risk that these carbon sinks may become emission sources; for example, due to fire.

Finally, we must introduce biofuels: these, unlike fossil fuels (e.g. petroleum), are renewable resources, since they are cultivated plants for use as fuels. Although they fail to remove CO2 from the atmosphere or reduce carbon emissions, they get to avoid this increase in the atmosphere. For this reason, they may not become a strict mitigation measure, but they can keep neutral balance of uptake and release. The problem is that they can lead to side effects on social and environmental level, such as increased prices for other crops or stimulate deforestation to establish these biofuel crops, what should not happen.

800px-Canaviais_Sao_Paulo_01_2008_06
Sugarcane crop (Saccharum officinarum) in Brazil to produce biofuel (Author: Mariordo).

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REFERENCES