Evolution and mechanisms of plant tolerance to flooding stress

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In recognition of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, this short article on flooding stress acknowledges not only Darwin's great contribution to the concept of evolution but also to the study of plant physiology. In modern biology, Darwin-inspired reductionist physiology continues to shed light on mechanisms that confer competitive advantage in many varied and challenging environments, including those where flooding is prevalent.


Mild flooding is experienced by most land plants but as its severity increases, fewer species are able to grow and survive. At the extreme, a highly exclusive aquatic lifestyle appears to have evolved numerous times over the past 120 million years. Although only 1–2% of angiosperms are aquatics, some of their adaptive characteristics are also seen in those adopting an amphibious lifestyle where flooding is less frequent. Lowland rice, the staple cereal for much of tropical Asia falls into this category. But, even amongst dry-land dwellers, or certain of their sub-populations, modest tolerance to occasional flooding is to be found, for example in wheat. The collection of papers summarized in this article describes advances to the understanding of mechanisms that explain flooding tolerance in aquatic, amphibious and dry-land plants. Work to develop more tolerant crops or manage flood-prone environments more effectively is also included. The experimental approaches range from molecular analyses, through biochemistry and metabolomics to whole-plant physiology, plant breeding and ecology.

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