Patrick Moldowan, PhD student in Prof. Njal Rollinson’s lab (School of the Environment and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), provides insight into the curious case of carnivorous pitcher plants

June 17, 2019 by Geoffrey Vendeville

Co-lead author Patrick Moldowan, a PhD candidate in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology in U of T’s Faculty of Arts & Science, investigated the plants on a hunch that they snacked on salamanders more often than people think. Researchers had assumed that the pitcher plant’s diet was made up almost exclusively of insects.

According to the researchers’ observations, the plants are a “non-trivial source of mortality” for baby salamanders. It’s possible that up to five per cent of young salamanders end up in the jaws of a pitcher plant each year. Some of the plants contained the remains of more than one salamander. Assistant Professor Njal Rollinson, a co-author of the paper, U of T ecologist and Moldowan’s supervisor, says he was stunned by the findings.

“To understand how bizarre this is, you have to appreciate that this is a secretive salamander that spends almost all of its time under logs or in burrows underground,” he says.  “Yet, here we have baby salamanders climbing up an exposed plant stem that is several times the salamander’s height and throwing themselves into a soup of enzymes and detritus.

Read the full article by Geoffrey Vendeville in U of T News

Find out more in National Geographic

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