Theme ADAPT - Ecology of plant-insect interactions and evolutionary adaptation in plants


Plant-ants, carnivorous plants or tank-plants often grow in tropical regions in temporarily flooded substrates that are poor in easily-absorbed nutrients. In response to such nutrient-stressed environment, they have evolved spectacular adaptations that allow them to defend themselves and to feed owing to the services of ants, to feed on insect prey, or to assimilate nutrients derived from a whole aquatic micro-ecosystem. These highly specialized plants display outstanding examples of ingenuity to attract or lure insects. They represent an entire biodiversity for which they are often keystone species. Even if their high degree of specialization makes them accurate models to study developmental evolution in plants, it can also make them vulnerable to environmental changes. Such plants often use ingenious mechanisms and are real sources of inspiration for the manufacture of biomimetic materials. Their architectural plasticity and hence their resistance to environmental changes are crucial to assess their status of endangered species, and also -because they are often keystone species- the risks threatening their associated ecosystems. These plants usually express a marked ontogenetic plasticity and are thus appropriate models to address the role of developmental changes in the morphological innovations in plants.

Scientific objective

The main goals of our research are to (1) understand the functioning of specialised structures at the plant-insect interface, (2) test their adaptive significance, (3) assess their plasticity and performance in the context of environmental changes, and (4) retrace their origin and diversification throughout their development and evolution.


  •  The fine mechanisms of these structures at the plant-insect interface that play a role in attraction, capture and nutrition are studied using physicochemical approaches including stable isotopes (nitrogen fluxes);
  •  The adaptive significance of these structures are tested by assessing their effects on plant fitness. The plant’s « ecological dilemma » is also addressed, the plant’s allocation of its resources to its different functions and its architectural response to potential conflicts of interest (e.g. the dilemma between nutrition and pollination in the case of a carnivorous plant, i.e. the risk of eating its own pollinators);
  •  The plasticity of plants regarding their specialized structures to insects is assessed using experiments in controlled stress and transplantation experiments;
  •  Molecular phylogenies are used to reconstruct the evolutionary history of these structures within a lineage and to trace, the ecological conditions of their appearance using a comparative approach.

This program is based on our long experience as ecologists in tropical rainforests. It focuses on two geographic poles and diversity hot-spots; the Amazonian basin and the island of Borneo. It concerns two families of tank-plants: Bromeliaceae and Nepenthaceae, as well as many genera of ant-plants.

Expected results

  •  Elucidation of the functional mechanisms at the plant-insect interface;
  •  Assessment of the mutualistic/parasitic nature of the interactions and the effect of the structures on plant fitness;
  •  Elucidation of nitrogen fluxes and the mechanisms behind plant nutrition;
  •  Assessment of the plant’s plasticity and how it copes with environmental changes;
  •  Reconstruction of the evolutionary history of a plant lineage and that of morpho-functional traits.

Scientific projects

Acronym Title Duration
CARNIVESPUn piège végétal sélectif pour le frelon asiatique ? 2016 - 2016
DIAMONDDissecting and monitoring amazonian diversity2016 - 2019
DROUGHTFunctional diversity and response to drought in tropical forests 2016 - 2019
FUN-BROMAre bromeliad roots absorptive? A preliminary study on fungal association in bromeliads2015 - 2016
FUNCTIONALWEBSDiversité fonctionnelle des réseaux trophiques: le lien entre écologie, physiologie et biogéographie2015 - 2018
PRONUTReconsidering protective ant-plant mutualisms from2014 - 2015
AMAZOMICSGenomics of adaptation in Amazonian ecosystem2012 - 2015
BIOHOPSYSBiodiversity and dynamic interactions in multiple host-parasite systems2012 - 2015
RAINWEBSWhat will happen if the rainforests dry up? Climate change and food webs along a latitudinal gradient2012 - 2016
CARNIBIOPStructure, fonction et diversité des biopolymères géants qui piègent les insectes chez les plantes carnivores du genre Nepenthes2010 - 2010

Major publications

All publications
  • Gaume L., Bazile V., Huguin M. & Bonhomme, V., 2016. Different pitcher shapes and trapping syndromes explain resource partitioning in Nepenthes species. Ecology and Evolution, 6: 1378–1392. [Editor link]
  • Bazile V., Le Moguédec G., Marshall D.J., Gaume L., 2015. Fluid physico-chemical properties influence capture and diet in Nepenthes pitcher plants. Annals of Botany, 115 (4): 705-716 [Editor link]
  • Leroy C., Carrias J-F., Corbara B., Pélozuelo L., Dézerald O., Brouard O., Dejean A., Céréghino R., 2013. Mutualistic ants contribute to tank-bromeliad nutrition. Annals of Botany 112: 919-926 [Editor link]
  • Bazile V., Moran J.A., Le Moguédec G., Marshall D.J., Gaume L., 2012. A carnivorous plant fed by its ant symbiont: a unique multi-faceted nutritional mutualism. PloS ONE, 7 (5): e36179 [Editor link]
  • Bonhomme V., Pelloux-Prayer H., Jousselin E., Forterre Y., Labat J.-J., Gaume L., 2011. Slippery or sticky? Functional diversity in the trapping strategy of Nepenthes carnivorous plants. New Phytologist, 191: 545–554 [Editor link]
  • Leroy C., Séjalon-Delmas N., Jauneau A., Ruiz-Gonzalez M-X., Gryta H., Jargeat P., Corbara B., Dejean A., Orivel J., 2011. Trophic mediation by a fungus in a tripartite ant-plant mutualism. Journal of Ecology 99: 583-590 [Editor link]
  • Di Giusto B., Bessière J.-M., Guéroult M., Lim L.B.L., Hossaert-McKey M., Marshall D.J., Gaume L., 2010. Flower-scent mimicry masks a deadly trap in the carnivorous plant Nepenthes rafflesiana. Journal of Ecology, 98: 845-856. [Editor link]

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