Submerged in darkness: adaptations to prolonged submergence by woody species of the Amazonian floodplains

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In Amazonian floodplain forests, >1000 tree species grow in an environment subject to extended annual submergence which can last up to 9 months each year. Water depth can reach 10 m, fully submerging young and also adult trees, most of which reproduce during the flood season. Complete submergence occurs regularly at the seedling or sapling stage for many species that colonize low-lying positions in the flooding gradient. Here hypoxic conditions prevail close to the water surface in moving water, while anaerobic conditions are common in stagnant pools. Light intensities in the floodwater are very low.

Questions and Aims

Despite a lack of both oxygen and light imposed by submergence for several months, most leafed seedlings survive. Furthermore, underwater growth has also been observed in several species in the field and under experimental conditions. The present article assesses how these remarkable plants react to submergence and discusses physiological mechanisms and anatomical adaptations that may explain their success.

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