The primary function of leaves is to provide an interface between plants and their environment for gas exchange, light exposure and thermoregulation. Leaves have, therefore a central contribution to plant fitness by allowing an efficient absorption of sunlight energy through photosynthesis to ensure an optimal growth. Their final geometry will result from a balance between the need to maximize energy uptake while minimizing the damage caused by environmental stresses. This intimate relationship between leaf and its surroundings has led to an enormous diversification in leaf forms. Leaf shape varies between species, populations, individuals or even within identical genotypes when those are subjected to different environmental conditions. For instance, the extent of leaf margin dissection has, for long, been found to inversely correlate with the mean annual temperature, such that Paleobotanists have used models based on leaf shape to predict the paleoclimate from fossil flora. Leaf growth is not only dependent on temperature but is also regulated by many other environmental factors such as light quality and intensity or ambient humidity. This raises the question of how the different signals can be integrated at the molecular level and converted into clear developmental decisions. Several recent studies have started to shed the light on the molecular mechanisms that connect the environmental sensing with organ-growth and patterning. In this review, we discuss the current knowledge on the influence of different environmental signals on leaf size and shape, their integration as well as their importance for plant adaptation.
Keywords: developmental plasticity; environment; gene regulatory networks; gene responsiveness; leaf morphology; plants; sensory system.