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Conifer species adapt to low-rainfall climates by following one of two divergent pathways.

ABSTRACT: Water stress is one of the primary selective forces in plant evolution. There are characters often cited as adaptations to water stress, but links between the function of these traits and adaptation to drying climates are tenuous. Here we combine distributional, climatic, and physiological evidence from 42 species of conifers to show that the evolution of drought resistance follows two distinct pathways, both involving the coordinated evolution of tissues regulating water supply (xylem) and water loss (stomatal pores) in leaves. Only species with very efficient stomatal closure, and hence low minimum rates of water loss, inhabit dry habitats, but species diverged in their apparent mechanism for maintaining closed stomata during drought. An ancestral mechanism found in Pinaceae and Araucariaceae species relies on high levels of the hormone abscisic acid (ABA) to close stomata during water stress. A second mechanism, found in the majority of Cupressaceae species, uses leaf desiccation rather than high ABA levels to close stomata during sustained water stress. Species in the latter group were characterized by xylem tissues with extreme resistance to embolism but low levels of foliar ABA after 30 d without water. The combination of low levels of ABA under stress with cavitation-resistant xylem enables these species to prolong stomatal opening during drought, potentially extending their photosynthetic activity between rainfall events. Our data demonstrate a surprising simplicity in the way conifers evolved to cope with water shortage, indicating a critical interaction between xylem and stomatal tissues during the process of evolution to dry climates.


PROVIDER: S-EPMC4210017 | BioStudies | 2014-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies