Pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes capture a wide range of arthropod prey for nutritional benefit, using complex combinations of visual and olfactory signals and gravity-driven pitfall trapping mechanisms. In many localities throughout Southeast Asia, several Nepenthes different species occur in mixed populations. Often, the species present at any given location have strongly divergent trap structures and preliminary surveys indicate that different species trap different combinations of arthropod prey, even when growing at the same locality. On this basis, it has been proposed that co-existing Nepenthes species may be engaged in niche segregation with regards to arthropod prey, avoiding direct competition with congeners by deploying traps that have modifications that enable them to target specific prey types. We examined prey capture among 3 multi-species Nepenthes populations in Borneo, finding that co-existing Nepenthes species do capture different combinations of prey, but that significant interspecific variations in arthropod prey combinations can often be detected only at sub-ordinal taxonomic ranks. In all lowland Nepenthes species examined, the dominant prey taxon is Formicidae, but montane Nepenthes trap few (or no) ants and 2 of the 3 species studied have evolved to target alternative sources of nutrition, such as tree shrew feces. Using similarity and null model analyses, we detected evidence for niche segregation with regards to formicid prey among 5 lowland, sympatric Nepenthes species in Sarawak. However, we were unable to determine whether these results provide support for the niche segregation hypothesis, or whether they simply reflect unquantified variation in heterogeneous habitats and/or ant communities in the study sites. These findings are used to propose improvements to the design of field experiments that seek to test hypotheses about targeted prey capture patterns in Nepenthes.
Keywords: Nepenthes; ants; arthropods; carnivorous plants; niche segregation; targeted prey capture.