Hydraulic basis for the evolution of photosynthetic productivity

Nat Plants. 2016 May 27;2(6):16072. doi: 10.1038/nplants.2016.72.


Clarifying the evolution and mechanisms for photosynthetic productivity is a key to both improving crops and understanding plant evolution and habitat distributions. Current theory recognizes a role for the hydraulics of water transport as a potential determinant of photosynthetic productivity based on comparative data across disparate species. However, there has never been rigorous support for the maintenance of this relationship during an evolutionary radiation. We tested this theory for 30 species of Viburnum, diverse in leaf shape and photosynthetic anatomy, grown in a common garden. We found strong support for a fundamental requirement for leaf hydraulic capacity (Kleaf) in determining photosynthetic capacity (Amax), as these traits diversified across this lineage in tight coordination, with their proportionality modulated by the climate experienced in the species' range. Variation in Kleaf arose from differences in venation architecture that influenced xylem and especially outside-xylem flow pathways. These findings substantiate an evolutionary basis for the coordination of hydraulic and photosynthetic physiology across species, and their co-dependence on climate, establishing a fundamental role for water transport in the evolution of the photosynthetic rate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Autotrophic Processes*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecosystem
  • Photosynthesis*
  • Plant Transpiration*
  • Species Specificity
  • Viburnum / physiology*