A novel resource–service mutualism between bats and pitcher plants

T. Ulmar Grafe, Caroline R. Schöner, Gerald Kerth, Anissa Junaidi, Michael G. Schöner

Abstract

Mutualistic relationships between vertebrates and plants apart from the pollen and seed-dispersal syndromes are rare. At first view, carnivorous pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes seem to be highly unlikely candidates for mutualistic interactions with animals, as they form dimorphic terrestrial and aerial pitchers that trap arthropods and small vertebrates. Surprisingly, however, the aerial pitchers of Nepenthes rafflesiana variety elongata are poor insect traps, with low amounts of insect-attractive volatile compounds and low amounts of digestive fluid. Here, we show that N. rafflesiana elongata gains an estimated 33.8 per cent of the total foliar nitrogen from the faeces of Hardwicke's woolly bats (Kerivoula hardwickii hardwickii) that exclusively roost in its aerial pitchers. This is the first case in which the faeces-trapping syndrome has been documented in a pitcher plant that attracts bats and only the second case of a mutualistic association between a carnivorous plant and a mammal to date.

  • Received November 30, 2010.
  • Accepted January 4, 2011.
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