Colour isn’t key for carnivorous plants

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Drosera rotundifolia (Roundleaved sundew) at Thorne Moss, with captured prey

The widespread belief that carnivorous plants are brightly coloured to attract prey could be wrong, according to the latest research published by scientists at Loughborough University.

Many carnivorous plants are bright red in colour, which is widely hypothesized to attract prey or provide camouflage. But a new study, published today in Royal Society journal Biology Letters, monitored capture rates of natural and artificial carnivorous species Drosera rotundifolia(commonly known as Sundew) and found the colour of the plant made little difference.

Sundews are one of the more common species of carnivorous plants, and typically grow in swamps, marshes and bogs across the temperate region of the northern hemisphere.

Dr Jonathan Millett and George Foot in the University’s Department of Geography’s Centre for Hydrological and Ecosystem Science undertook a study investigating the Sundew plant, whose red leaves catch prey using sticky glue secreted on the end of stalked tentacles.

Researchers conducted three separate studies on peat bogs at Thorne Moors in South Yorkshire to determine the role of plant colour in attracting prey.

They designed artificial traps to isolate the influence of colour and observed living plants in their natural habitat, and capture rates were logged. Findings showed prey were not attracted to green traps, and were actually deterred from red traps. There was no evidence the camouflaged traps caught more prey.

This is one of the first studies to provide conclusive proof the plants’ red colour has not evolved to attach prey, which suggests the vivid colouring may serve another purpose.

Dr Millett said:

“Prey attraction to red carnivorous plant traps is yet to be conclusively demonstrated for any species.

“Our results suggest that the red pigments called anthocyanins, which create these bright colours, might serve a different role in the biology of the plants.

“This is an important step in helping us understand the evolution of carnivorous plants, and how they work.”

Dr Millett is now investigating the true role of the anthocyanins, which he believes might act as a sunscreen to protect the plants from the dangerous effects of the sun.

Funded PhD studentships

There is an opportunity to apply for a university funded PhD studentship supervised by Dr. Jonathan Millett. There are five available within the School of Social Sciences, Politics, Geography and History at Loughborough University.  I have put some very broad outlines for suitable projects below. If you are interested in undertaking a PhD in any of these areas please contact me and we can discuss an appropriate application. These studentships provide a stipend of £13,725 per annum plus home/EU tuition fees and are to start 1st October 2014. You should apply before 21st March 2014.

The official advert is here: http://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/AIE921/five-phd-studentships-in-the-school-of-social-political-and-geographical-sciences/

Further details are below.

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PhD studentship on dune grazing

We are inviting applications for a NERC funded CASE studentship to study the biodiversity, conservation and management of sand dune plant communities. The studentship will cover tuition fees plus an annual (tax exempt) stipend of £14,726, and will start in October 2014.  This project will be funded through the Central England NERC Training Alliance (CENTA), which is one of 15 Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP).

This project will be jointly supervised with Dr. Laurence Jones at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in Bangor.

Further details can be found here and below. If you would like to discuss the project informally please do not hesitate to contact Jon Millett (j.millett@lboro.ac.uk).

Also see other PhD opportunities here.

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bog, bog, bog, bog, bog, bog…

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I spent 14 days this summer travelling round the UK and Republic of Ireland visiting bogs.  I’m used to field working alone, but I was accompanied by two of our Geography students this year, George Foot and Julia Thompson, who made the experience considerably more pleasant. Continue reading

PhD studentships in Geography

The Department of Geography has secured 2 PhD studentships aligned with Loughborough University’s strategic research investment in ‘Water Resources’ and ‘Autonomous Vehicles’. Applications are now invited from exceptionally well qualified students who wish to embark on a full-time research degree programme commencing in Autumn Term 2013. Continue reading

My papers, distilled.


Wordle of me papers

I really like innovative data presentation. When done well, good data presentation can revolutionise our ability to navigate our way through a data rich world. It can also be beautiful. Harry Beck’s Tube map is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget what an excellent example of spatial data visualisation it is. Hans Rosling’s Gapminder graphs really bring data to life.

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Darwin’s “most wonderful plants in the world”.

Drosera figure from Darwin - Insectivorous Plants
Image from Insectivorous Plants (Darwin, 1875). Taken from: The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

I think that it is safe to say that Darwin was fascinated, if not obsessed by carnivorous plants. In a letter to Asa Gray Darwin wrote:

“[Drosera] is a wonderful plant, or rather a most sagacious animal. I will stick up for Drosera to the day of my death.”

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