Biodome carnivorous plants reveal hidden microbial diversity

Some carnivorous plants hold ‘pools’ within the plant consisting of rainwater and secreted substances such as sugars, used to lure and trap insect prey. Microscopic analysis of this fluid collected from pitcher plants (Sarracenia sp.) and bromeliads (Brocchinia sp.) growing in BU’s Biodome has revealed a rich diversity of single-celled microorganisms. These microbes, less than half a millimetre in length, are known as ciliates and distinguished by hair-like cilia that they use for locomotion and feeding.

Ciliates are incredibly important grazers, feeding on bacteria, algae and organic matter, and are a crucial part of the microecosystem within the bromeliad and pitcher plant pools, which also includes algae, bacteria and insect larvae, such as mosquitoes. In turn, they are also fed upon by mosquito larvae and copepods that also grow in such pools, playing an important role in energy transfer from microbes to animals.

One of the microbes found within the pools was the ciliate Euplotes, pictured above. © J.Dazley