Carnivorous plant research
Carnivorous plants have captured the imagination and wonder of people all over the world, including scientists, naturalists, horticulturalists, and artists alike. Even Charles Darwin had a glasshouse full of carnivorous plants, which he thought were "the most wonderful plants in the world"! In this glasshouse, Darwin conducted a number of experiments, and was the first to provide scientific evidence of plants capturing and dissolving insect prey. This research is published in his treatise Insectivorous Plants, and has become the basis of more than a century of research on these amazing plants.
How carnivorous are carnivorous plants?
In my PhD research, I am using stable isotope techniques to figure out just how carnivorous these plants really are. In other words, how much do they rely on captured prey to get essential nutrients (like nitrogen) and how much do they get just from the soil? Most of my research has focused on carnivorous plants from my home-state of Western Australia, which hosts nearly a third of the world's carnivorous plant species! Across both the southwest biodiversity hot-spot and the northern Kimberley region, Western Australia is home to:
A few hundred Drosera (sundew) species with sticky hairs
About 6 Byblis (rainbow plant) species also with sticky hairs
More than 60 Utricularia (bladderwort) species with suction traps
The rare aquatic Aldrovanda vesiculosa (waterwheel plant) with snap traps
The endemic Cephalotus follicularis (Albany pitcher plant) with pitfall traps
Conservation of carnivorous plants
Unfortunately, many carnivorous plants around the world are under threat from the loss and disturbance of their natural habitat and from illegal poaching of plants from the wild. Sir David Attenborough is a proud supporter of carnivorous plant conservation, as the Patron of the IUCN Carnivorous Plant Specialist Group. This group of experts recently undertook conservation assessments for a majority of the world's carnivorous plants, an important first step towards developing informed conservation and management plans for these species. Through my research, I hope to provide information that can help support this work.
Read more about my PhD research on my UWA profile, or see my interview with Erin Parke from the ABC below.
I am supported by a Research Training Program stipend (formerly Australian Postgraduate Award), and by the UWA School of Biological Sciences, Kings Park Science, and the BayCEER Laboratory of Isotope Biogeochemistry at the University of Bayreuth, Germany.
My research is supported by grants from the Australian Flora Foundation, Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, International Carnivorous Plant Society, Kimberley Society, and Friends of Kings Park.
I have received support for research travel from the UWA Postgraduate Convocation Research Travel Award (2017), the UWA Graduate Research School Student Travel Award (2016), the UWA Postgraduate Student’s Association Conference Travel Award (2016), and the Committee for the 10th International Conference on Applications of Stable Isotope Techniques to Ecological Studies Travel Award (2016).
My PhD supervisors: Prof Kingsley Dixon, Prof Gerhard Gebauer, Dr Jason Stevens, Dr Adam Cross & Prof Erik Veneklaas.