Low Nutrient Habitats

Thriving in adversity

Heavy rainfall can leach nutrients out of soils and many areas of the tropics typically have such heavy rain. Here we are growing species adapted to survival in poor, leached or thin soils where light and moisture are rarely limiting factors but nitrogen and phosphorus can be in very low supply. Plants get round this nutrient shortage in a number of ways, perhaps the most obvious is evolution of the carnivorous habit, a route taken by more than 600 plant species around the world, while others associate with fungi supporting mycorrhizal relationships and others persuade animals to deposit nutrient rich material around them, such as the ant ferns, or just collect falling debris, as many bromeliads do. In this display you can see the new world pitcher plants (Heliamphora spp.) and old world pitcher plants (Nepenthes spp.), two groups that have converged on water containing traps to catch a range of animals for food.  Some Nepenthes have further specialised to provide habitats for bats and for shrews providing instant fertiliser. Growing through the poor soil are several species of bladderwort (Utriculariaspp.) which have traps that can open than close to trap their prey in just 1/250th of a second. They catch soil dwelling creatures such as nematodes and tardigrades but they still fix carbon by photosynthesis!

  • More than 600 plant species eat animals to gain vital minerals
  • Many plants associate with fungi – offering sugar, receiving nutrients
  • One Asian pitcher plant attracts shrews to poo in its pitchers so gaining instant manure
  • Some plants offer housing for ants that then gather food which eventually decomposes providing local compost.
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