You are here

Ellison Abstract- 2006 Ellison

Printer-friendly version

A. M. Ellison. 2006. Nutrient limitation and stoichiometry of carnivorous plants. Plant Biology 8: 740-747.


The cost-benefit model for the evolution of carnivorous plants posits a trade-off between photosynthetic costs associated with carnivorous structures and photosynthetic benefits accrued through additional nutrient acquisition. The model predicts that carnivory is expected to evolve if its marginal benefits exceed its marginal costs. Further, the model predicts that when nutrients are scarce but neither light nor water is limiting, carnivorous plants should have an energetic advantage in competition with non-carnivorous plants. Since the publication of the cost-benefit model over 20 years ago, marginal photosynthetic costs of carnivory have been demonstrated but marginal photosynthetic benefits have not. A review of published data and results of on-going research show that nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium often (co)-limit growth of carnivorous plants and that photosynthetic nutrient use efficiency is 20-50% of that of non-carnivorous plants. Assessments of stoichiometric relationships among limiting nutrients, scaling of leaf mass with photosynthesis and nutrient content, and photosynthetic nutrient use efficiency all suggest that carnivorous plants are at an energetic disadvantage relative to non-carnivorous plants in similar habitats. Overall, current data support some of the predictions of the cost-benefit model, fail to support others, and still others remain untested and merit future research. Rather than being an optimal solution to an adaptive problem, botanical carnivory may represent a set of limited responses constrained by both phylogenetic history and environmental stress.

[ Read the full text ]