Leonora Bittleston | Harvard Horizons Symposium | Summary and Q&A

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June 1, 2015
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Harvard University
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Leonora Bittleston | Harvard Horizons Symposium

TL;DR

Pitcher plants serve as self-contained ecosystems that help researchers study universal patterns of species interactions.

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Questions & Answers

Q: Why are pitcher plants considered ideal for studying ecosystems?

Pitcher plants are small, self-contained ecosystems that represent the complexity of rainforests. Their modified leaf cups attract insects, house various organisms, and exhibit predator-prey relationships.

Q: How does DNA sequencing technology help analyze the organisms within pitcher plants?

DNA sequencing allows researchers to identify and quantify the different organisms present in pitcher plants. By using Harvard's supercomputer, millions of sequences are processed to analyze the data and identify patterns.

Q: What is convergent evolution, and why is it significant for studying pitcher plants?

Convergent evolution refers to the independent development of similar traits in unrelated species. Pitcher plants from different parts of the world independently evolved cup-shaped leaves, which makes them ideal for studying universal patterns of species interactions.

Q: How do bacterial communities in pitcher plants compare in different regions?

Bacterial communities in pitcher plants from Southeast Asia are more similar to those from North America than to the bacteria in the surrounding soil. This suggests convergent interactions, where unrelated pitcher plants have selected for similar bacterial communities.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Pitcher plants, with their modified leaf cups that trap and digest insects, offer a manageable and representative ecosystem for studying complex rainforest ecosystems.

  • These plants house a diverse community of organisms, including specially adapted insects, protozoa, bacteria, and fungi, creating predator-prey and decomposer relationships.

  • Convergent evolution has independently led to the development of pitcher plants in different parts of the world, making them ideal for identifying consistent patterns of species interactions.

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