The function of secondary metabolites in plant carnivory
Abstract Background Carnivorous plants are an ideal model system for evaluating the role of secondary metabolites in plant ecology and evolution. Carnivory is a striking example of convergent evolution to attract, capture and digest prey for nutrients to enhance growth and reproduction and has evolved independently at least ten times. Though the roles of many traits in plant carnivory have been well studied, the role of secondary metabolites in the carnivorous habit is considerably less understood. Scope This review provides the first synthesis of research in which secondary plant metabolites have been demonstrated to have a functional role in plant carnivory. From these studies we identify key metabolites for plant carnivory and their functional role, and highlight biochemical similarities across taxa. From this synthesis we provide new research directions for integrating secondary metabolites into understanding of the ecology and evolution of plant carnivory. Conclusions Carnivorous plants use secondary metabolites to facilitate prey attraction, capture, digestion and assimilation. We found ~170 metabolites for which a functional role in carnivory has been demonstrated. Of these, 26 compounds are present across genera that independently evolved a carnivorous habit, suggesting convergent evolution. Some secondary metabolites have been co-opted from other processes, such as defence or pollinator attraction. Secondary metabolites in carnivorous plants provide a potentially powerful model system for exploring the role of metabolites in plant evolution. They also show promise for elucidating how the generation of novel compounds, as well as the co-option of pre-existing metabolites, provides a strategy for plants to occupy different environments.
- Social Sciences
- Geography and Environment