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Ecological study of the aquatic carnivorous plant Utricularia australis R.Br. (Lentibulariaceae)


Utricularia australis is an aquatic rootless carnivorous plant that takes up nutrients through shoots or from trapped prey digested in its bladders. As the information on the ecology of this species is scarce, the main environmental factors which favour or limit its growth were analysed. Habitat characterization was carried out on 23 aquatic sites in Central Italy where U. australis occurred. Diverse water chemical and physical factors and aquatic plant dominants were sampled and compared to Utricularia coverage. Species response curves with respect to each analysed ecological factor were elaborated. Despite the large environmental variation among sites, U. australis did show some ecological preferences. Optimal growth of Utricularia was associated with sunny sites (~ 1500 µmol photon m−2 s−1) and shallow waters (< 20 cm) that were warm (~ 26 °C), alkaline (pH 8.3 median value), with moderate-high conductivity (700 µS cm−1) and with low aquatic inorganic phosphorus (< 10 µg L−1) but higher nitrogen (800–1600 µg L−1). Dissolved and particulate organic nutrients (mainly phosphorus) were highly important in determining U. australis ecology and its distribution. The knowing of the ecological preferences of U. australis, a plant that is becoming increasingly rare in Central Italy, could be very useful to identify and protect its habitats or to identify new potential sites and to avoid further population losses.

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We thank Dr. Mattia Azzella, Dr. Giuseppe Fabrini, Dr. Pierluigi Cox, Dr. Davide La Salvia and Dr. Aurora Salituro for their help in identifying sites and sampling activities. Moreover, we thank the anonymous reviewers for having contributed to improve this manuscript through their precious suggestions.


This work was supported by the Grant to Department of Science, Roma Tre University (MIUR-Italy, Departments of Excellence, ARTICLE 1, COMMA 314 – 337 LAW 232/2016).

Author information

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by Simona Ceschin, Amii Bellini, Lorenzo Traversetti and Neil Thomas William Ellwood. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Simona Ceschin, and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Correspondence to Simona Ceschin.

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Ceschin, S., Bellini, A., Traversetti, L. et al. Ecological study of the aquatic carnivorous plant Utricularia australis R.Br. (Lentibulariaceae). Aquat Ecol 54, 295–307 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10452-019-09743-y

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  • Rootless carnivorous plant
  • Bladderwort
  • Autoecology
  • Ecological response curve
  • Wetland
  • Central Italy