The pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea can directly acquire organic nitrogen and short-circuit the inorganic nitrogen cycle.

Research paper by Jim D JD Karagatzides, Jessica L JL Butler, Aaron M AM Ellison

Indexed on: 08 Jul '09Published on: 08 Jul '09Published in: PloS one


Despite the large stocks of organic nitrogen in soil, nitrogen availability limits plant growth in many terrestrial ecosystems because most plants take up only inorganic nitrogen, not organic nitrogen. Although some vascular plants can assimilate organic nitrogen directly, only recently has organic nitrogen been found to contribute significantly to the nutrient budget of any plant. Carnivorous plants grow in extremely nutrient-poor environments and carnivory has evolved in these plants as an alternative pathway for obtaining nutrients. We tested if the carnivorous pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea could directly take up intact amino acids in the field and compared uptake of organic and inorganic forms of nitrogen across a gradient of nitrogen deposition. We hypothesized that the contribution of organic nitrogen to the nitrogen budget of the pitcher plant would decline with increasing nitrogen deposition.At sites in Canada (low nitrogen deposition) and the United States (high nitrogen deposition), individual pitchers were fed two amino acids, glycine and phenylalanine, and inorganic nitrogen (as ammonium nitrate), individually and in mixture. Plants took up intact amino acids. Acquisition of each form of nitrogen provided in isolation exceeded uptake of the same form in mixture. At the high deposition site, uptake of organic nitrogen was higher than uptake of inorganic nitrogen. At the low deposition site, uptake of all three forms of nitrogen was similar. Completeness of the associated detritus-based food web that inhabits pitcher-plant leaves and breaks down captured prey had no effect on nitrogen uptake.By taking up intact amino acids, Sarracenia purpurea can short-circuit the inorganic nitrogen cycle, thus minimizing potential bottlenecks in nitrogen availability that result from the plant's reliance for nitrogen mineralization on a seasonally reconstructed food web operating on infrequent and irregular prey capture.