Carnivory As A Lifestyle Choice

   Some habits are rather difficult to give up. Carnivory is one that I cling to although the balance has shifted from animal remains to plant material. I have always drawn the line at eating live or injured animals. In that regard, I’m in line with Woody Allen and don’t shuck live oysters to wash them down with lots of alcohol.

As I said, I’ve shifted towards obtaining more of my proteins and fats from the plant kingdom and am anticipating enormous health benefits from the change. I am fortunate in that I can make that choice. I can trundle off to the local store when I’m getting hungry and fill my bag with lots of plant bits rather than steaks.

Not every carnivore can do that. What if you’re not mobile? Well, you just have to sit and wait to see what’s available. Carnivorous plants are in that patient species group, but this is not necessarily by preference. Millett et al in the New Phytologist considered the plight of sundew plants who sit around in Swedish bogs (1, 2).

The sundews catch flies, suck up the protein to get the nitrogen they need to grow, prosper and set up little sundews to come after them. But is a carnivorous lifestyle their preferred mode of living or would they prefer to be like most other plants and let the good earth provide and not bother with trying to bring those annoying flies to the sticky end that they truly deserve?

The “New Phytologist” paper indicates that they would prefer to move away from carnivory.  Millett et al checked the Nitrogen levels in Swedish bogs and showed that those that were more highly polluted with Nitrogen from modern farming practices had sundews that were cutting back on their carnivory in favor of the nutrition in the bog water. In the more pristine bogs, they got 57% of their Nitrogen need from flies, but this had dropped to 22% in some bog locales that were richer in Nitrogenous water.

However, carnivory as a lifestyle choice may be better for the sundews in the longer term as they have less competition in the Nitrogen poor habitats and they don’t have big root systems to make them good competitors in Nitrogen rich bogs. In the most Nitrogen rich bogs, they had to go back to eating more flies so that 33% of their Nitrogen came flying by.


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