The evolution of carnivorous pitcher plants

The pitcher trap is a striking example of convergent evolution: unrelated lineages of pitcher plants have independently evolved remarkably similar traps as adaptations to nutrient-poor environments. Scientists have recently discovered that within groups of related pitcher plants, species also show intriguing patterns of divergent evolutionDivergence in Nepenthes is linked to novel strategies for obtaining nutrients from specific sources, such as insects, leaf litter and even mammalian faeces. The bizarre assortment of shapes and sizes of pitcher trap in Nepenthes adapted to specific nutrient sources are analogous to the well-known examples of adaptive radiation seen in animals, such as the beak shapes of Darwin’s finches. We are interested in the extent that adaptive radiation has shaped the diversity of pitcher plants. We are currently building an extensive collection of Nepenthes and other pitcher plants to support this research.

evolution of carnivorous pitcher plants