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Plant Responses to Environmental Heterogeneity

Project Leaders: Alexandra Thorn and Colin Orians

The resources required for plant growth are often patchily distributed. Our work examines how the vascular architecture of plants constrains their responses to patchy resource availability. We have shown that certain ecological conditions tend to maximize the ability of plants to exploit patchiness in their immediate environment and as importantly that species differ in their ability to exploit patchy resources.

Brief background: Many view plants as being integrated -- capable of translocating resources from one part of the plant to all other parts. In reality, many vascular plants are sectorial -- exhibit restricted movement of nutrients, photosynthate and signal molecules along specific vascular, xylem or phloem, pathways. Sectoriality can affect the patterns of "systemic" induction by constraining the transport of signal molecules, and may affect plant growth, chemistry, and physiology by restricting the movement of nutrients from roots to shoots. We are exploring how differences among species affect their responses to soil nutrient heterogeneity, localized herbivory, and tolerance to drought.