Natural variation in stomata size contributes to the local adaptation of water-use efficiency in Arabidopsis thaliana

Mol Ecol. 2018 Oct;27(20):4052-4065. doi: 10.1111/mec.14838. Epub 2018 Sep 19.


Stomata control gas exchanges between the plant and the atmosphere. How natural variation in stomata size and density contributes to resolve trade-offs between carbon uptake and water loss in response to local climatic variation is not yet understood. We developed an automated confocal microscopy approach to characterize natural genetic variation in stomatal patterning in 330 fully sequenced Arabidopsis thaliana accessions collected throughout the European range of the species. We compared this to variation in water-use efficiency, measured as carbon isotope discrimination (δ13 C). We detect substantial genetic variation for stomata size and density segregating within Arabidopsis thaliana. A positive correlation between stomata size and δ13 C further suggests that this variation has consequences on water-use efficiency. Genome wide association analyses indicate a complex genetic architecture underlying not only variation in stomatal patterning but also to its covariation with carbon uptake parameters. Yet, we report two novel QTL affecting δ13 C independently of stomatal patterning. This suggests that, in A. thaliana, both morphological and physiological variants contribute to genetic variance in water-use efficiency. Patterns of regional differentiation and covariation with climatic parameters indicate that natural selection has contributed to shape some of this variation, especially in Southern Sweden, where water availability is more limited in spring relative to summer. These conditions are expected to favour the evolution of drought avoidance mechanisms over drought escape strategies.

Keywords: Arabidopsis thaliana; QST-FST analysis; genomewide association study; local adaptation to climate; stomata; water-use efficiency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Arabidopsis / metabolism
  • Arabidopsis / physiology*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism
  • Droughts
  • Genome-Wide Association Study / methods
  • Plant Stomata / genetics
  • Plant Stomata / metabolism
  • Plant Stomata / physiology*
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics
  • Water / metabolism


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • Water

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.n068q74