SEB Gothenburg 2017 Session Report: Carnivorous plants - Physiology, ecology, and evolution

01 Oct 2017 - By: Dr. Simon Poppinga

SEB Gothenburg 2017 Session Report: Carnivorous plants - Physiology, ecology, and evolution

Organised by: Dr. Simon Poppinga (University of Freiburg, Germany)


Dozens of scientific papers covering carnivorous plant research are published each year on diverse topics ranging from new species descriptions, through phylogenetic approaches in taxonomy and systematics, to ecology and evolution of botanical carnivory, biophysics, and physiology of traps, among many others. During the symposium “Carnivorous plants - Physiology, ecology, and evolution”, which was held at the SEB Annual Main Meeting 2017 in Gothenburg, several of these topics were brought into a wider context during the four keynote and invited lectures given by renowned carnivorous plants experts. Dr. Andreas Fleischmann (Botanische Staatssammlung München, Germany) discussed general trap diversity and proposed several fascinating evolutionary scenarios that may have led to the development of these highly complex leaf modifications. Prof. Aaron Ellison (Harvard Forest, USA) presented a comprehensive synopsis on how carnivorous plants can be used as experimental systems to address contemporary scientific problems. Dr. Ulrike Bauer (University of Bristol, UK) reviewed biomechanics of pitfall traps and explained how arthropods lose their foothold on them. Her presentation about how such slippery pitcher plant surfaces can inspire novel technologies was well received by the audience. Last, Dr. Dagmara Sirová (University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic) told us about the highly complex plant–microbe interactions in the carnivorous bladderworts (Utricularia).

The original research presented in the regular talks was similarly diverse and exciting. Dr. Sebastian Kruppert and Martin Horstmann, both from the University of Bochum, Germany, reported research on carnivorous plants from the perspective of the prey. They showed how freshwater crustaceans react to botanical predators with inducible morphological changes that impede capture. Prof. Ulrike Müller (California State University Fresno, USA) explained fluid mechanics during prey capture by the suction traps of bladderworts and presented fascinating insights into these enigmatic and extremely complex mechanical trap devices. Dr. Anneke Prins (Middlesex University, UK) currently investigates the proto-carnivorous properties of common teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), and her talk was very well received and widely discussed by the audience. M.Sc. Anna Westermeier (University of Freiburg, Germany) gave new and fascinating insights about the trapping mechanics of the Venus’ flytrap’s (Dionaea muscipula) little aquatic sister, the waterwheel plant (Aldrovanda vesiculosa), based on comprehensive biomechanical experiments and theoretical modelling. Dr. Simon Poppinga (University of Freiburg, Germany) gave a final overview on recent research on the snapping behavior of the Venus’ flytrap. The two latter projects are part of the CRC 141 in which among other topics the potential of movements of carnivorous plants for biomimetic applications are studied.

With many people in the audience actively working on carnivorous plants, each talk was accompanied by thorough discussion. The inspiring and exciting atmosphere also was supported by the great venue of the Gothia Towers. The many original research presentations about carnivorous plant-prey interactions, sophisticated fluid mechanics, evaluation of the “carnivorous status” of a certain species, and trapping mechanics will, once published, surely have a great impact in a variety of research fields. Several of the symposium speakers have prepared a comprehensive book on carnivorous plant biology (Carnivorous plants - Physiology, ecology, and evolution, to be published in January 2018 by Oxford University Press), which highlights once more the timeliness and topicality of this symposium.

Read more about this session in the SEB Magazine Feature Article 'Enter the Carnivores'


Author: Dr. Simon Poppinga
Category: SEB Gothenburg 2017