Evolutionary biology research on plant shows significance of maternal effects

Nov 15, 2007

When habitat changes, animals migrate. But how do immobile organisms like plants cope when faced with alterations to their environment? This is an increasingly important question in light of new environmental conditions brought on by global climate change.

A University of Virginia study, published in the Nov. 16 issue of the journal Science, demonstrates that plants grown in the same setting as their maternal plant performed almost 3½ times better than those raised in a different environment — indicating that maternal plants give cues to their offspring that help them adapt to their environmental conditions.

Evolutionary biologist Laura Galloway, an associate professor of biology at the University of Virginia, recently completed a study of the American bellflower, a native wildflower that commonly grows in both shaded areas and areas that receive full sunlight for at least part of the day. She focused on the transmission of environmental information between maternal plants and their offspring.

Galloway planted some seeds in light conditions similar to their maternal plants and some in different light. She found that plants growing in the same setting as their maternal plant outperformed those planted in a different environment. The work was conducted in a natural habitat at the University of Virginia’s Mountain Lake Biological Station in Southwest Virginia.

Since seeds typically fall close to their maternal plant, they grow in a similar environment. When seeds are dispersed to different environments, Galloway found that the plants may suffer for one generation, but as long as the seeds of those plants grow locally, their offspring will recover.

“We found a temporary mechanism of adaptation to local environmental conditions,” says Galloway. Since plant adaptation is typically studied on a permanent, genetic level rather than in direct response to environmental conditions, Galloway’s insights are unique.

Galloway was led to this line of inquiry by chance. She was surprised to observe a number of years ago that plants that had experienced drought had smaller seeds than those that had not. This highly visible physiological change within only one generation intrigued her.

“Historically maternal effects have been viewed as a complicating factor — an inconvenience,” explains Galloway. “But we have found that they can dramatically influence the performance of an individual.”

Source: University of Virginia

Explore further: Flapping baby birds give clues to origin of flight

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A mighty revealing mouse

Feb 01, 2012

Ten years ago, when Prof. Neville Pillay first started investigating the semi-desert-dwelling African striped mouse or Rhabdomys in the Goegap Nature Reserve near Springbok, Northern Cape, he never anticipated ...

Genome duplication encourages rapid adaptation of plants

May 03, 2011

Plants adapt to the local weather and soil conditions in which they grow, and these environmental adaptations are known to evolve over thousands of years as mutations slowly accumulate in plants' genetic code. But a University ...

Unprecedented use of DDT concerns experts

May 04, 2009

A panel of experts and citizens convened to review recent studies on the link between DDT and human health expressed concern that the current practice of spraying the pesticide indoors to fight malaria is leading to unprecedented ...

Recommended for you

New tool aids stem cell engineering for medical research

11 hours ago

A Mayo Clinic researcher and his collaborators have developed an online analytic tool that will speed up and enhance the process of re-engineering cells for biomedical investigation. CellNet is a free-use Internet platform ...

User comments : 0