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Tropical plants and ecosystem function

11 April 2017
Tropical forests account for about one third of global productivity and terrestrial metabolism, yet remain poorly understood in terms of plant ecophysiology and ecosystem ecology. Many prevailing paradigms developed through research on temperate ecosystems, such as close correlations between leaf nitrogen and photosynthetic capacity, seem to be only weakly relevant to many tropical forest systems. The high plant diversity and species turnover of most tropical forests also present challenges to finding general insights, and from scaling from intensively studied field sites to wider landscapes and whole biomes. The advent of traits-based approaches, coupled with hyperspectral remote sensing of key leaf traits, offers new possibilities of assessing tropical forest ecophysiology at scale. This collection of seven papers explores some of the latest advances in the context of Amazonian and Andean forests, on scales ranging from leaf traits and gas exchange, through to plot-level productivity and carbon dynamics to the assessment of key traits through hyperspectral remote sensing approaches. Many of the papers focus on a model elevation gradient in the Amazon-Andes of Peru, while others compare results from Peru with other sites across the tropics. In combination, the papers show the potential of describing the spatial and temporal variation of key canopy leaf traits through hyperspectral approaches, including monitoring leaf age through remote sensing, but also highlight some intriguing challenges remaining in relating these leaf traits to photosynthesis, respiration and ecosystem productivity. These papers point the way to some exciting new avenues for tropical ecosystem ecophysiology in the coming years. 

Yadvinder Malhi, Feature Co-ordinator
University of Oxford, UK

Eucalyptus genome

8 May 2015
The June 2015 issue of New Phytologist celebrates the release of the genome of Eucalyptus grandis. Eucalyptus contains some of the fastest growing hardwood trees and the tallest flowering plant on Earth, and also has many species adapted to dry, hot, and nutrient deficient soils. It also produces a diverse array of plant-specific metabolites (including the well-known eucalypt oils). Members of the genus are among the most productive lignocellulosic biomass producers on the planet, which makes the genome a rich source of genetic information to inform the development of new kinds of bioproducts, including chemicals, advanced building materials, pulp, paper, packaging, biopolymers and bioenergy.

The eucalypt genome has, almost instantly, lived up to its promise. The articles in this volume show that the genome sequencing investment by the US Department of Energy – and the associated inputs and collaborative efforts from many scientific and industrial communities around the globe – is truly an accomplishment to celebrate.

Molecular plant–microbe interactions

1 December 2014
Today we can sustain more than 7 billion people on the planet. This is the single most dramatic consequence of the green revolution. However, the high-input agriculture of the green revolution has passed its peak in productivity and yields are on the decline. For agriculture, plant–microbe interactions are of fundamental importance. While microbial plant pathogens cause massive yield and post-harvest loss, symbiotic fungi and bacteria provide beneficial phosphate and nitrogen to plants. An understanding of the molecular switches leading to disease or symbiosis will reveal new targets and strategies for human intervention. Up to 2005, research on plant disease mostly focused on the elucidation of plant resistance mechanisms. For example, many resistance genes had been cloned that confer immunity to single isolates of a pathogen species. However, knowledge of the molecular mechanisms by which plant pathogens, especially fungi, cause disease and divert plant cell development for their benefit was very limited. In recognition of this knowledge gap the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) funded a priority program entitled ‘Microbial Reprogramming of Plant Cell Development’ (Plant-Micro). This collection features six review articles jointly written by focus groups that collectively portray the scientific achievement of Plant-Micro in the context of the international research arena, alongside one article describing primary research data that originated in the context of Plant-Micro.

Drought-induced forest mortality

18 September 2013
This Feature Issue presents some of the most recent advances in research on forest mortality during and after drought, including the mechanisms that drive mortality and subsequent consequences. As this field evolves, we will certainly continue to uncover both exciting breakthroughs, as well as new methodological challenges. Through a continued combination of approaches – from glasshouse to field studies, small plants to large ones, manipulations and observations, model tests, and broader assessment across many PFTs and climate regimes – we can quickly advance our understanding of rapid and widespread plant mortality in the future.

Bioenergy trees

24 February 2012
This Feature highlights a number of research reviews and articles that address some key biological questions: What is the biochemical basis of a particular biomass trait? What metabolic systems are engaged in supporting it? Which genes control the relevant pathways and how are those genes themselves regulated? It is clear that the bioenergy trees planned for the future will have to be optimized for many different uses and for growth across a wide range of environments, but they will also need to be deployed in a socially responsible manner if we are to realize their full potential to contribute newly captured carbon and energy to the global economy.

Carbon cycling in tropical ecosystems

3 February 2011
In this issue of New Phytologist, we present four papers that emerged from that symposium. They cover the full range of topics discussed – plant physiology, soil processes, human interactions, and global analysis – and from their different perspectives, they all present analyses of C uptake, storage, and release in tropical ecosystems.

Unearthing the truffle genome

12 January 2011
The ‘black diamond’, the ‘mysterious product of the earth’, the ‘ultimate fungus’, ‘la grande mystique’ are some of the common names describing the delectable Périgord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum Vitt.). Truffle cultivation is notoriously difficult, in part because of its cryptic life cycle as an underground symbiont, in which the fungus trades nutrients with oak-tree roots. Decreasing supply and rising market prices have provided a strong incentive for research on truffle cultivation. This includes a better understanding of the fungus life cycle and the ecology of truffle grounds.
This Feature includes the description of the T. melanosporum genome and a number of companion papers that will benefit scientists investigating plant–microbe interactions and the molecular ecology of the mycorrhizal symbiosis.

Pollinator-mediated selection and floral evolution

27 September 2010
This Feature Issue is partly based on a European Society for Evolutionary Biology symposium held in Turin (August 2009). The symposium gathered together studies aimed at advancing our evolutionary understanding of pollination and setting a framework for future work.

The Ectocarpus genome sequence

2 September 2010
The seven feature papers presented in this issue illustrate how the Ectocarpus genome is being exploited to study many facets of brown algal biology and to investigate processes of fundamental importance to eukaryotes in general. The challenge now is to progress from analysis of the genome sequence to the application of approaches that will allow gene functions to be determined or confirmed experimentally. If this process is successful we can expect many new insights into the biology of these unusual and complex organisms in the coming years.

Effectors in plant–microbe interactions

12 August 2010
Effectors are defined as molecules that manipulate host-cell structure and function, thereby facilitating infection (virulence factor or toxins) and/or triggering defense responses (avirulence factor or elicitors). This dual (and conflicting) activity of effectors has been broadly reported in many plant–microbial pathosystems and provides a rapidly developing field of research. 
This Feature presents some exciting results regarding the evolution, trafficking and targeting of effectors.

Amazonian rain forests and drought

19 July 2010
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The Amazonian rain forest carries out about 15% of terrestrial photosynthesis and contains about 25% of the world's terrestrial diversity - characteristics that are likely to be highly susceptible to drought - with recent indications of drying and simulations of future long term drought. This Feature brings together information from field observations and experiments, simulation models and satellite remote sensing to investigate the sensitivity of the Amazonian rain forest to drought. The overall picture is of a forest that is negatively impacted by drought, especially long term drought, with larger trees disproportionally at risk and with risks extending for some years following the termination of drought.