Unified Changes in Cell Size Permit Coordinated Leaf Evolution

New Phytol. 2013 Jul;199(2):559-70. doi: 10.1111/nph.12300. Epub 2013 May 7.


The processes by which the functions of interdependent tissues are coordinated as lineages diversify are poorly understood. Here, we examine evolutionary coordination of vascular, epidermal and cortical leaf tissues in the anatomically, ecologically and morphologically diverse woody plant family Proteaceae. We found that, across the phylogenetic range of Proteaceae, the sizes of guard, epidermal, palisade and xylem cells were positively correlated with each other but negatively associated with vein and stomatal densities. The link between venation and stomata resulted in a highly efficient match between potential maximum water loss (determined by stomatal conductance) and the leaf vascular system's capacity to replace that water. This important linkage is likely to be driven by stomatal size, because spatial limits in the packing of stomata onto the leaf surface apparently constrain the maximum size and density of stomata. We conclude that unified evolutionary changes in cell sizes of independent tissues, possibly mediated by changes in genome size, provide a means of substantially modifying leaf function while maintaining important functional links between leaf tissues. Our data also imply the presence of alternative evolutionary strategies involving cellular miniaturization during radiation into closed forest, and cell size increase in open habitats.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Cell Size*
  • Ecosystem
  • Models, Biological
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Leaves / anatomy & histology
  • Plant Leaves / cytology*
  • Plant Stomata / cytology
  • Plant Vascular Bundle / anatomy & histology
  • Plant Vascular Bundle / cytology
  • Proteaceae / cytology
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable
  • Species Specificity