Mutualism between tree shrews and pitcher plants: Perspectives and avenues for future research

Charles Clarke, Jonathan Moran, Lijin Chin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Three species of Nepenthes pitcher plants from Borneo engage in a mutualistic interaction with mountain tree shrews, the basis of which is the exchange of nutritional resources. The plants produce modified toilet pitchers that produce copious amounts of exudates, the latter serving as a food source for tree shrews. The exudates are only accessible to the tree shrews when they position their hindquarters over the pitcher orifice. Tree shrews mark valuable resources with faeces and regularly defecate into the pitchers when they visit them to feed. Faeces represent a valuable source of nitrogen for these Nepenthes species, but there are many facets of the mutualism that are yet to be investigated. These include, but are not limited to, seasonal variation in exudate production rates by the plants, behavioral ecology of visiting tree shrews, and the mechanism by which the plants signal to tree shrews that their pitchers represent a food source. Further research into this extraordinary animal-plant interaction is required to gain a better understanding of the benefits to the participating species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1187 - 1189
Number of pages3
JournalPlant Signaling and Behavior
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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