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Venus Flytraps and Arthropods: Plant-Animal Interactions Proposal

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Updated: Dec 1st, 2020

Introduction

The interaction between plants and animals has ecological and evolutionary importance. Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) and arthropods have interactions that determine their survival and existence in various ecological niches.3 The challenge of the loss of biodiversity has prompted the need to study plant-animal interactions for the restoration of threatened species, such as Venus flytrap.1 Consideration of biotic and abiotic requirements in the restoration of plants is critical for they affect their growth and establishments.

During their growth, Venus flytraps interact with arthropods, which are its pollinators and prey insects. Venus flytraps manage pollinator-prey conflict to ensure the presence of mutual benefits, as well as sufficient nutrients for growth and development.4 However, limited information is available regarding the way Venus flytraps resolve pollinator-prey conflict in their niches.

Since Venus flytraps grow in the nutrient-deficient environment, they have to exhibit a carnivorous lifestyle. Venus flytraps capture bugs and digest them to obtain nitrogen, which is missing poor habitats where they grow.3 An established form of interaction that exists between arthropods and Venus flytraps is a prey-predator relationship. According to researchers, Venus flytrap utilizes a spontaneous trap to catch prey insects and secret chitinases, lipases, and proteinases to digest them and derive vital nutrients they require.3

For these enzymes to functions well, they have to adapt to high temperatures in harsh habitats where Venus flytraps grow, resist proteolytic degradation, and degrade chitin effectively. To attract and trap arthropods, Venus flytraps secrete volatile organic compounds on their surfaces. Comparative analysis of volatile organic compounds shows that Venus flytraps release benzenoids, terpenes, and aliphatics in response to their nitrogen status.2

The secretion of volatile organic compounds is prey specific because their scent mimics that of favorite fruits and flowers of some insects. For instance, Venus flytraps attract fruit flies by releasing organic compounds that smell like ordinary fruits.3 Therefore, understanding of types of arthropods attracted to Venus flytrap in low and high nitrogen status is essential for their restoration in diminished and new habitats.

Problem Statement

The loss of biodiversity and extinction of species are major issues that drive the conservation of plants. The restoration of diminishing habitats requires the understanding of nutrient requirements of Venus flytraps and their interactions with arthropods in introduced and established environments.1 In essence, the understanding of the activity of Venus flytraps is critical to restoring them in favorable environments where they can adapt and grow in the same way as their native environment.

Besides, Venus flytraps secrete numerous types of volatile organic compounds, which require characterization and their attractiveness to specific arthropods. Out of over 60 volatile organic compounds released by Venus flytrap, none of them have been linked to attracting specific arthropod despite variations in their secretion during the nutritional conditions of low and high nitrogen status.2

Thus, linking of volatile organic compounds to certain arthropods is essential to the understanding of the interaction between prey insects and carnivorous plants. Venus flytraps tend to exhibit prey selectivity depending on the beneficial aspects of arthropods. Researchers report that Venus flytraps rarely capture species of bees and beetles since they are pollinators, but they trap spiders and ants to derive the required nutrients.4 Therefore, the examination of arthropod selectivity of Venus flytraps is crucial to elucidate their interactions in nature for ecological and evolutionary benefits.

Goals and Objectives

To enhance the understanding of the carnivorous behavior of Venus flytraps, the study will compare the activity, ascertain the type of volatile organic compounds, and determine arthropod selectivity. Given that restoration of Venus flytraps are necessary to preserve their diversity and prevent extinction, a comparison of their activity in new and established environments would provide important information. Moreover, the study seeks to link the nature of volatile compounds that Venus flytraps release to specific arthropods in environments with different levels of nitrogen. Since Venus flytraps use volatile organic compounds to attract arthropods, the study will assess prey selectivity during low and high nitrogen status.

  1. To compare the activity of Venus flytraps in catching arthropods in new and established environments with similar conditions.
  2. To ascertain the nature of volatile organic compounds that Venus flytraps secrete to attract specific arthropods in low and high nitrogen status.
  3. To determine arthropod selectivity of Venus flytraps in nutrient conditions of low and high nitrogen status.

Procedures and Methods

The study will employ a quasi-experimental design in illustrating the interaction between Venus flytraps and arthropods. The experiment will be conducted in gardens of Venus flytraps with varied conditions of establishment and nitrogen. Each garden will measure 25 meters square (5m ᵡ 5m) and be in an open area to allow free interaction of arthropods and Venus flytraps. The study will achieve its objectives by analyzing interactions between Venus flytraps and arthropods in the new garden, established garden, high nitrogen status garden, and low nitrogen status garden.

The study will allow Venus flytraps to grow for three months to form a new garden and six months to form an established garden. An insufficient amount of fertilizers will be used to create a garden with low nitrogen status, while an adequate amount of fertilizers will be used to form a garden with high nitrogen status.

To compare the activity of Venus flytraps in catching arthropods in new and established environments, the study will collect data daily and record observations. The number of traps, the number of trapped insects, sizes of traps, and sizes of insects are attributes of data that the study will collect by observing the interaction of Venus flytrap and arthropods. The number of traps and trapped insects will depict the capacity of Venus flytrap to capture insects in new and established environments.1

Size of insects and traps will comprise measurements of length, as well as width. These attributes will determine the activity of Venus flytraps in capturing prey bugs in various environments. A comparison of the activity of Venus flytraps in new and established gardens will indicate if restoration will have negative or positive effects. The study will employ descriptive statistics to establish trends of activity and analysis of variance to determine if new and establish environments have a significant influence on the interaction of Venus flytrap and arthropods.

To ascertain the nature of volatile organic compounds that Venus flytraps secrete to attract specific arthropods in low and high nitrogen status, the study will use bioassays. The study will extract volatile organic compounds from Venus flytraps with low and high nitrogen status. The analysis of these compounds using high‐performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS) will identify different compounds and their respective masses.

Moreover, the study will utilize olfactory bioassays to identify volatile organic compounds that attract specific arthropods.2 Species of insects captured by Venus flytraps will be exposed to different volatile compounds and their behaviors observed for three minutes. The direction of movement will determine if placed volatile compounds attract and repel certain insects. In the analysis of results, the study will use principal component analysis to classify volatile organic compounds and logistic regression analysis to determine the effect these compounds on the behavior of arthropods. The study will also employ the analysis of variance to evaluate if volatile compounds vary according to the nitrogen status of Venus flytraps.

To determine arthropod selectivity of Venus flytraps in nutrient conditions of low and high nitrogen status, the study will collect arthropods that visit flowers and get captured in traps. Arthropods visiting plants will be collected daily for two weeks and the number of species recorded. Forceps will be used to retrieve trapped arthropods and prevent damage to plants. The number and species of arthropods that visited flowers will be compared to the ones that Venus flytraps captured.4

Arthropods that visited flowers will be observed in a microscope to evaluate the degree of pollen grains that they carry on their bodies as potential pollinators. The degree of pollination activity will be measured using the relative abundance of arthropods, the amount of pollen carried, and fidelity to pollination.4 The analysis of variance will be utilized to differentiate the number of species captured in traps from those that visited flowers to carry out pollination. Comparison of pollinators and trapped insects will show the prey selectivity of Venus flytraps in capturing arthropods in habitats that provide low and high nutritional requirements.

Evaluation

For successful implementation of the project requires constant monitoring of and quality control of laboratory procedures. Since the experiment uses gardens of Venus flytraps, the evaluation process needs to ensure that consistent growth occurs and the appropriate application of fertilizers happens to create poor and rich environments. Since Venus flytraps and arthropods, the evaluation process ensures appropriate sampling and handling of samples for analysis. The exploratory data analysis will be done on preliminary data to examine trends and patterns of interactions. Hence, the integrity of gardens and the patterns of data will determine whether the project requires modifications to achieve conclusive findings.

Dissemination

The study plans to disseminate its findings through the presentation in conferences and publications in reputable peer-reviewed journals. Moreover, the study aims to support the restoration of degraded habitats and the expansion of new ones to demonstrate that Venus flytraps exhibit positive growth in new environments, volatile organic compounds attract specific arthropods, and prey specificity reduces trapping of pollinators.

References

Hutchens JJ, Luken JO. 2015. Prey capture success by established and introduced populations of the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). Ecol Restor. 33(2): 171-177.

This article compared the effect of established and new environments on the success of prey capture by Venus flytrap in the coastal plain of South Carolina. The study assessed the number of traps, sizes of prey insects, sizes of traps, and multiple captures of prey insects. The findings revealed that Venus flytraps in the new environment had a higher number of traps, prey insects, and closed traps than in the established environment. The findings imply that restoration of Venus flytraps in the new environment does not hinder their carnivorous activity, but it improves their prey capture success.

Kreuzwieser J, Scheerer U, Kruse J, Burzlaff T, Honsel A, Alfarraj S, Georgiev P, Schnitzler J, Ghirardo A, Kreuzer I, Hedrich R, Rennenberg H. 2014. The Venus flytrap attracts insects by the release of volatile organic compounds. J Exp Bot. 65(2): 755-766.

This article asserts that Venus flytraps secrete volatile organic compounds that attract prey insects, leading to their capture in traps. To prove this assertion, researchers performed olfactory assays to illustrate how Venus flytraps attract fruit flies. Venus flytraps were also subjected to poor and productive environments, and the nature of volatile organic compounds analyzed using gas chromatography (GC) and proton transfer reaction (PTR) forms of mass-spectrometry (MS). The study found out that Venus flytraps produce over 60 volatile organic compounds that changed according to nutritional status but consistently attracted fruit flies. Thus, the study demonstrated that the scent of volatile organic compounds that Venus flytraps secret attracts arthropods by mimicking the smell of their food.

Paszota P, Escalante-Perez M, Thomsen LR, Risor MW, Dembski A, Sanglas L, Nielsen TA, Karring H, Thogersen IB, Hedrich R, Enghild JJ, Kreuzer I, Sanggaard KW. 2014. Secreted major Venus flytrap chitinase enables digestion of arthropod prey. Biochim Biophys Acta. 1844(2):374-383.

In this article, researchers elucidate the mechanism of carnivorous lifestyle exhibited by Venus flytraps. Researchers aver that although carnivorous plants are known, the mechanism of detection and digestion of prey in traps remains unexplained. Molecular analysis reveals that Venus flytrap secretes chitinase-I, which enables it to digest the skeletal structure of arthropods. Chitinase-I is adapted to its functions because it tolerates high temperatures and resists degradation by proteolytic enzymes that aid in the digestion of proteins. Researchers recommend the application of chitinase-I in industrial activities because it acts on α-chitin in both crystalline and soluble chitin substrates.

Youngsteadt E, Irwin RE, Fowler A, Bertone MA, Giacomini SJ, Kunz M, Suiter D, Sorenson CE. 2018. Venus flytrap rarely traps its pollinators. Am Nat. 191(4): 539-546.

This article holds that Venus flytraps have a way of resolving pollinator-prey conflict in trapping arthropods to supplement deficient nutrients. Researchers compared species of pollinators that visited flowers and prey insects that got trapped by Venus flytraps. The findings showed that arthropods, such as bees and beetle, carried significant pollen grains on their bodies and managed to elude trap. In contrast, ants and spiders did not have pollen grains on their bodies and were predominantly trapped by Venus flytrap. Therefore, the article suggests that the abundance, the fidelity, and the amount of pollen in insects determine the disposition to evade trap and digestion by Venus flytraps.

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IvyPanda. "Venus Flytraps and Arthropods: Plant-Animal Interactions." December 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/venus-flytraps-and-arthropods-plant-animal-interactions/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Venus Flytraps and Arthropods: Plant-Animal Interactions." December 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/venus-flytraps-and-arthropods-plant-animal-interactions/.

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