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Monday, August 10, 2009

Universe in a Pitcher Plant: Ecological Microcosms

In the Bowels of Carnivorous Plants, a Tiny Model of the World | Wired Science |
For insight into fabulously complex ecological dynamics, Harvard University biologist Aaron Ellison peers into the cupped leaves of carnivorous pitcher plants.

At the bottom of each slippery-sided leaf is a pool of water into which unlucky insects fall and drown. The bugs sustain not only the plant, but an intricate food web of bacteria, plankton and invertebrates. Each pool is small enough to fit in a shot glass, and big enough to model the world.

“Each leaf is its own individual lake, its own individual ecosystem. Suddenly, in a bog I can walk to from my office, I’ve got 50,000 lakes to do experiments on. This is an opportunity to understand how a complete, functioning natural ecosystem works,” said Ellison.

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