Unexplored dimensions of variability in vegetative desiccation tolerance

Am J Bot. 2021 Feb;108(2):346-358. doi: 10.1002/ajb2.1588. Epub 2021 Jan 9.


Desiccation tolerance has evolved recurrently across diverse land plant lineages as an adaptation for survival in regions where seasonal rainfall drives periodic drying of vegetative tissues. Growing interest in this phenomenon has fueled recent physiological, biochemical, and genomic insights into the mechanistic basis of desiccation tolerance. Although, desiccation tolerance is often viewed as binary and monolithic, substantial variation exists in the phenotype and underlying mechanisms across diverse lineages, heterogeneous populations, and throughout the development of individual plants. Most studies have focused on conserved responses in a subset desiccation-tolerant plants under laboratory conditions. Consequently, the variability and natural diversity of desiccation-tolerant phenotypes remains largely uncharacterized. Here, we discuss the natural variation in desiccation tolerance and argue that leveraging this diversity can improve our mechanistic understanding of desiccation tolerance. We summarize information collected from ~600 desiccation-tolerant land plants and discuss the taxonomic distribution and physiology of desiccation responses. We point out the need to quantify natural diversity of desiccation tolerance on three scales: variation across divergent lineages, intraspecific variation across populations, and variation across tissues and life stages of an individual plant. We conclude that this variability should be accounted for in experimental designs and can be leveraged for deeper insights into the intricacies of desiccation tolerance.

Keywords: drought; genetic diversity; natural variation; plasticity; resiliency; resurrection plants.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Desiccation*
  • Genomics
  • Plants