New population of aquatic carnivorous plant found in the Kimberley

Scientists have discovered a new population of the critically endangered waterwheel plant after a 10-year search.
By Holly Cormack May 2, 2019 Reading Time: 2 Minutes

RESEARCHERS FROM Curtin University have discovered a new population of critically endangered aquatic carnivorous plants in Western Australia’s remote Kimberly, following a 10-year search of the region.

During a recent botanical expedition to the northern Kimberley, Dr Adam Cross and Honours student Thilo Krueger discovered several thousand Waterwheel Plants (Aldrovanda vesiculosa) in a billabong on Theda Station, east of the Mitchell Plateau.

“This is the first time this species has been found in the Kimberley for more than 20 years,” said Dr Cross. “The only other known population from Western Australia is more than 2,000 kilometres away near Esperance in the State’s south, where a small population of only a few dozen plants was discovered in 2007.”

Described by the researchers as an “aquatic venus flytrap”, the waterwheel possesses unique underwater snapping traps to capture and digest small insect prey. Adapted for capturing water fleas and mosquito larvae, these traps on the tips of the leaves are some of the fastest-moving appendages in the plant kingdom” – clamping down on unsuspecting prey in no more than 10 milliseconds.

Unfortunately, waterwheel populations have suffered greatly due to a number of threats, including destruction of its wetland habitat for development, competition from aquatic weeds, polluted water and illegal collection by carnivorous plant enthusiasts.

“Although it was once widespread around the world, it is now considered critically endangered,” said Mr Krueger. “Habitat loss and changes to water quality have seen the species become extinct in up to 30 countries, so the fact that we have found several thousand plants in Western Australia is significant.”

Dr Cross, who wrote a book about the plant in 2012, said the discovery of the new population in the Kimberley was “a dream come true”.

“This new location in the remote northern Kimberley is one of the largest populations ever discovered in Australia, in an area where habitat is still relatively pristine. This discovery gives us hope that northern Australia is still a stronghold for the species in the face of its continuing global decline.”