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

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


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

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Key Insights

  • 🌱 Pitcher plants serve as model systems for studying ecosystem patterns.
  • 🤱 Predator-prey interactions are evident within pitcher plant ecosystems, with protozoa feeding on bacteria.
  • 👻 DNA sequencing technology allows researchers to analyze the diverse organisms within pitcher plants and identify patterns.
  • 🥺 Convergent evolution has led to the development of pitcher plants with similar traits in different regions.
  • 🌱 The acidity of pitcher fluid influences the types of bacteria that colonize the plant, highlighting the plant's control over its internal ecosystem.
  • 👻 Studying pitcher plants can provide insights into how other host organisms, like humans, control their internal gut ecosystems.
  • 🌱 The organization of life exhibits patterns that can be revealed by studying ecosystems like rainforests and pitcher plants.


[Applause] in a rainforest there are thousands of different species interacting with each other a Jaguar hunting a deer trees competing for light earthworms breaking down old leaves this is an ecosystem defined as a community of interacting organisms and their physical environment I want to understand the Living World which is made up of ecosystems... Read More

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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