The New Phytologist Trust is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of plant science. It owns and produces the international journal New Phytologist.

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Volume 214 Issue 3 | May 2017
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New Phytologist is an international journal offering rapid publication of high quality, original research in plant science. Covering four sections - Physiology & Development, Environment, Interaction and Evolution - articles cover topics that range from intracellular processes through to global environmental change. Cross-disciplinary approaches are particularly encouraged and we recognize that techniques from molecular and cell biology, and functional genomics through to modelling and system-based approaches will be applied across the whole spectrum of plant science.


New Phytologist Volume 214 Issue 3

Using traits to uncover tropical forest function

In this issue of New Phytologist, a collection of seven papers on Amazon forest function are assembled that are largely focused on using traits to understand function. These papers, taken together, add a wealth of knowledge of trait distributions in tropical forests, and will serve as springboards to better understanding of tropical forest processes.

Parducci et al. (2017) Figure 5

Ancient plant DNA in lake sediments

Recent advances in sequencing technologies now permit the analyses of plant DNA from fossil samples (ancient plant DNA, plant aDNA), and thus enable the molecular reconstruction of palaeofloras. Hitherto, ancient frozen soils have proved excellent in preserving DNA molecules, and have thus been the most commonly used source of plant aDNA. However, DNA from soil mainly represents taxa growing a few metres from the sampling point. Lakes have larger catchment areas and recent studies have suggested that plant aDNA from lake sediments is a more powerful tool for palaeofloristic reconstruction. Furthermore, lakes can be found globally in nearly all environments, and are therefore not limited to perennially frozen areas. Here, we review the latest approaches and methods for the study of plant aDNA from lake sediments and discuss the progress made up to the present. We argue that aDNA analyses add new and additional perspectives for the study of ancient plant populations and, in time, will provide higher taxonomic resolution and more precise estimation of abundance. Despite this, key questions and challenges remain for such plant aDNA studies. Finally, we provide guidelines on technical issues, including lake selection, and we suggest directions for future research on plant aDNA studies in lake sediments.

Thalmann and Santelia (2017) Figure 2

Starch as a determinant of plant fitness under abiotic stress

Abiotic stresses, such as drought, high salinity and extreme temperatures, pose one of the most important constraints to plant growth and productivity in many regions of the world. A number of investigations have shown that plants, including several important crops, remobilize their starch reserve to release energy, sugars and derived metabolites to help mitigate the stress. This is an essential process for plant fitness with important implications for plant productivity under challenging environmental conditions. In this Tansley insight, we evaluate the current literature on starch metabolism in response to abiotic stresses, and discuss the key enzymes involved and how they are regulated.

Sedio (2017) Figure 1

Recent breakthroughs in metabolomics promise to reveal the cryptic chemical traits that mediate plant community composition, character evolution and lineage diversification

Much of our understanding of the mechanisms by which biotic interactions shape plant communities has been constrained by the methods available to study the diverse secondary chemistry that defines plant relationships with other organisms. Recent innovations in analytical chemistry and bioinformatics promise to reveal the cryptic chemical traits that mediate plant ecology and evolution by facilitating simultaneous structural comparisons of hundreds of unknown molecules to each other and to libraries of known compounds. Here, I explore the potential for mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance metabolomics to enable unprecedented tests of seminal, but largely untested hypotheses that propose a fundamental role for plant chemical defenses against herbivores and pathogens in the evolutionary origins and ecological coexistence of plant species diversity.

Trunschke et al. (2017) Figure 1

Interaction intensity and pollinator-mediated selection

  • In animal-pollinated plants, the opportunity for selection and the strength of pollinator-mediated selection are expected to increase with the degree of pollen limitation. However, whether differences in pollen limitation can explain variation in pollinator-mediated and net selection among animal-pollinated species is poorly understood.
  • In the present study, we quantified pollen limitation, variance in relative fitness and pollinator-mediated selection on five traits important for pollinator attraction (flowering start, plant height, flower number, flower size) and pollination efficiency (spur length) in natural populations of 12 orchid species. Pollinator-mediated selection was quantified by subtracting estimates of selection gradients for plants receiving supplemental hand-pollination from estimates obtained for open-pollinated control plants.
  • Mean pollen limitation ranged from zero to 0.96. Opportunity for selection, pollinator-mediated selection and net selection were all positively related to pollen limitation, whereas nonpollinator-mediated selection was not. Opportunity for selection varied five-fold, strength of pollinator-mediated selection varied three-fold and net selection varied 1.5-fold among species. Supplemental hand-pollination reduced both opportunity for selection and selection on floral traits.
  • The results show that the intensity of biotic interactions is an important determinant of the selection regime, and indicate that the potential for pollinator-mediated selection and divergence in floral traits is particularly high in species that are strongly pollen-limited.

Hyatt-Twynam et al. (2017) Figure 2

Risk-based management of invading plant disease

  • Effective control of plant disease remains a key challenge. Eradication attempts often involve removal of host plants within a certain radius of detection, targeting asymptomatic infection. Here we develop and test potentially more effective, epidemiologically motivated, control strategies, using a mathematical model previously fitted to the spread of citrus canker in Florida.
  • We test risk-based control, which preferentially removes hosts expected to cause a high number of infections in the remaining host population. Removals then depend on past patterns of pathogen spread and host removal, which might be nontransparent to affected stakeholders. This motivates a variable radius strategy, which approximates risk-based control via removal radii that vary by location, but which are fixed in advance of any epidemic.
  • Risk-based control outperforms variable radius control, which in turn outperforms constant radius removal. This result is robust to changes in disease spread parameters and initial patterns of susceptible host plants. However, efficiency degrades if epidemiological parameters are incorrectly characterised.
  • Risk-based control including additional epidemiology can be used to improve disease management, but it requires good prior knowledge for optimal performance. This focuses attention on gaining maximal information from past epidemics, on understanding model transferability between locations and on adaptive management strategies that change over time.