Carnivorous plants found in Girnar forest, say researchers of BKNMU

Carnivorous plants of utricularia janarthanamii species of bladderwort family that prey on insects have been found in the hilly Girnar forest near Junagadh city, according to a team of researchers of the Department of Life Sciences of the Bhakta Kavi Narsinh Mehta University (BKNMU), Junagadh.

The presence of these plants along with megafauna species such as Asiatic lions has been hailed by experts as a commendation of Girnar forest being a “healthy and functional ecosystem” as these plants do not thrive where pollution levels are high. These plants were recorded only in Maharashtra before this discovery.

Prof Milind Sardesai of the Department of Botany at Savitribai Phule Pune University who has done research on bladderworts, and confirmed the species identified by the Junagadh university, told The Indian Express, “Ecologically speaking, utricularias are found where pollution is less and indicate cleanliness of water. They are never found in polluted water. The presence of lions and these plants suggest that the forest is a healthy and functional ecosystem”.

A team led by Prof Suhas Vyas, head of the Department of Life Science of BKNMU, spotted plants of four species of utricularia genus a during a field survey in a radius of around one kilometre in Lal Dhori area of Girnar forest near Bhavnath Taleti, the foothills of Mount Girnar on the border of Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Junagadh on August 22 last year.

A detailed laboratory analysis and identification process has established that some of those plants are U. janarthanamii, the carnivorous plant species whose distribution was considered to be limited to Maharashtra only. This, the BKNMU team claims, is the first distributional record of this insectivorous plant anywhere in India outside Maharashtra.

The team also has PhD scholar Kamlesh Gadhvi, associate professors Sandip Gamit, who specialises in taxonomy, and Dushyant Dudhagra, all from the life sciences department of BKNMU as well as Dr Rashmi Yadav, an associate Prof at St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad. They also identified three other plants — Utricularia reticulata, U. striatula and U. stellaris — all recorded in the state earlier.

Initially, they concluded that a bunch of plants on the surface of porous wet rocks at around 100 feet above mean sea level belonged to an uncertain species of bladderwort. After DNA sequencing and matching the sequencing results with the existing databases of molecular biology, the specimens were confirmed to be of U. janarthanamii, adding one more species to the floral diversity of Girnar forest, which is home to 56 Asiatic lions.

“This is a very exciting discovery. The plants are tiny but play an important role in local ecology and food-chain in that ecology. They prey on small insects and keep their population in check,” said Prof Vyas, adding that U. janarthanamii is the eighth species of carnivorous plants to be recorded in Gujarat.

The state’s floral diversity records so far include bladderwort species like U. arcuata U. aurea, U. caerulea, U. gibba subspecies exoleta, U. reticulata, U. stellaris. and U. striatula. They mostly occur in forests in Dangs and along the Gujarat-Maharashtra border as well as in Saurashtra, Vyas said.

The team sent specimens to a reputed biotechnology institute in southern India for its DNA analysis and fed the results in the database of a portal, which is a reputed repository of molecular biology information. Specimens were also sent to Prof Milind Sardesai for identification and confirmation of the species.

“With the help of the portal, we could ascertain that there were previously recorded three species of bladderworts in Junagadh but the sequence we had fed was of the fourth species that was not recorded in Gujarat before,” Prof Vyas told The Indian Express.

“While genetic evaluation confirmed it to be U. janarthanamii, for further proof, we sent specimens to Prof Sardesai who also identified it as U. janarthanamii and said that this plant has not been recorded anywhere outside Maharashtra at least in the past 100 years,” Prof Vyas added.

The U. janarthanamii plant species has been named after Dr MK Janarthanam, a Goa University professor, in recognition of his contribution to the research on bladderworts in India. This species is endemic to Kolhapur and Satara districts of Maharashtra. It grows seasonally on porous and moist surfaces in warm and wet weather. They prey on macroinvertebrates by sucking them in their pinhead-sized bladders-like sacs or traps.

Utricularia bladders, among the most complicated parts of carnivorous plant species, are filled with water. For trapping insects, the plants pump water out and create negative pressure inside the bladders. Once one of the two tentacles of the bladder sends a signal indicating presence of an insect in nearby water, the bladder opens its mouth and sucks in that water mass with the prey. It then releases water again while trapping the insect inside and consumes the prey by releasing digestive secretions, botanists say.

Worldwide, around 220 species of carnivorous plants of the bladderwort family have been recorded and 40 of them have been recorded in India, said Prof Sardesai.

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