Background and aims: Water limitation is an important determinant of the distribution, abundance and diversity of plant species. Yet, little is known about how the response to limiting water supply changes among closely related plant species with distinct ecological preferences. Comparison of the model annual species Arabidopsis thaliana with its close perennial relatives A. lyrata and A. halleri, can help disentangle the molecular and physiological changes contributing to tolerance and avoidance mechanisms, because these species must maintain tolerance and avoidance mechanisms to increase long-term survival, but they are exposed to different levels of water stress and competition in their natural habitat.
Methods: A dry-down experiment was conducted to mimic a period of missing precipitation. The covariation of a progressive decrease in soil water content (SWC) with various physiological and morphological plant traits across a set of representative genotypes in A. thaliana, A. lyrata and A. halleri was quantified. Transcriptome changes to soil dry-down were further monitored.
Key results: The analysis of trait covariation demonstrates that the three species differ in the strategies they deploy to respond to drought stress. Arabidopsis thaliana showed a drought avoidance reaction but failed to survive wilting. Arabidopsis lyrata efficiently combined avoidance and tolerance mechanisms. In contrast, A. halleri showed some degree of tolerance to wilting but it did not seem to protect itself from the stress imposed by drought. Transcriptome data collected just before plant wilting and after recovery corroborated the phenotypic analysis, with A. lyrata and A. halleri showing a stronger activation of recovery- and stress-related genes, respectively.
Conclusions: The response of the three Arabidopsis species to soil dry-down reveals that they have evolved distinct strategies to face drought stress. These strategic differences are in agreement with the distinct ecological priorities of the stress-tolerant A. lyrata, the competitive A. halleri and the ruderal A. thaliana.
Keywords: Arabidopsis halleri; Arabidopsis lyrata; Arabidopsis thaliana; avoidance strategy; drought stress; evolution; plant wilting; soil water content; tolerance strategy.
© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Annals of Botany Company.