Pollution turns carnivorous plants veggie


Millett J, Foot G.W., Svensson B. (2015) Nitrogen deposition and prey nitrogen uptake control the  nutrition of the carnivorous plant Drosera rotundifolia. Science of The Total Environment, 512, 631-636. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.01.067


Carnivorous plants are famous for their ability to capture and digest prey. This is predominantly insects, but can also include birdsrodents and frogs (and humans if you’ve seen the little shop of horrors!). The prey provides the plant with valuable nutrients, such as nitrogen, that are often lacking in the low nutrient ecosystems they live in.

Nitrogen pollution is produced by farms, vehicles, waste treatment and other heavy industries. Once in the atmosphere it can be precipitated out onto the boggy low nutrient habitats where the carnivorous plants are growing.

The increased nitrogen in the bog means the carnivorous plant obtains more nitrogen from its roots and less from capturing insects, in a sense, becoming vegetarian. Although they are technically not vegetarian, because they are not eating plants and still capture insects, it is a nice analogy as the carnivorous plants are eating less meat!

It’s not great news for the carnivorous plants though. The nitrogen deposition acts like a fertiliser and makes the surrounding vegetation grow much faster than the carnivorous plants can, eventually creating too much shade for them to function properly…

Image and text by George Foot, PhD student at the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Cambridge

Find more great research summarised in graphics at deSciphered.com