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Looking for a toilet on Mount Kinabalu

Posted on 22-09-2012 by Redactie

Thankfully this isnt a story about travelers diarrhea Im rather happy I havent experienced that yet but rather about a fantastic tropical pitcher plant that serves as a convenient toilet for small mammals and birds. As Joris van Alphen described in a previous post, he, Merlijn Jocqu and I ventured out with our trusty guide Sukaibin Sumail to an undisclosed location in search of two of the most awe inspiring plants in the world.

"No botanist has gone before..." After a seven-hour climb to a place no botanist has ever ventured (according to our guide), Nepenthes edwardsiana and the toilet Nepenthes lowii rewarded us with their wicked cool and showy prey/poop trapping pitchers.

Carnivorous plants are unique in that they capture and consume prey. They are adapted to grow in nutrient poor soils requiring additional nutrient uptake from prey trapped in a deep cavity filled with liquid. Inside the pitchers is a sticky slurry of insect doom, full of enzymes and bacteria that turn fallen organisms into breakfast, lunch or dinner. Nepenthes lowii certainly is creative in its diet choice, though. It captures poop yes, you read that right poop. To accomplish this, it attracts and feeds small mammals with exudates produced by glands in the inner lid of the pitchers. As the tree shrew sits to feast on this plant-produced meal, its feces fall into the opening of the trap for a nitrogen rich snack for N. lowii what an awesome strategy for nutrients!

Not only are these toilets cool, but they are just one of the many Nepenthes species that I aim to collect DNA from during the expedition. I estimate on contributing around 70 DNA samples of around 12 species found in the lowland and highland research areas. This data will help to solve the mountain mystery of Mt. Kinabalu and its evolution of endemic species.

Rachel Schwallier

Posted in Borneo expeditions | Tagged borneo, expeditions,