Gumnut babies thrive if mother well cared for
Flooded gum (Eucalyptus grandis) seedlings’ growth rates can be affected by the growing conditions the parent plants experienced.
The ‘maternal environment effect’ has been known for more than 30 years, but the implications of a recent study may be significant for foresters.
A key finding was that seedlings’ water use efficiency was higher if the maternal environment had been drier.
The phenotype of a plant is determined mostly by its genetic inheritance and growing conditions, but also by the maternal environment. This seems straightforward, because a well-nourished, healthy parent plant is likely to produce larger seeds that provide offspring with a good start in life. Beyond that, the specific influence of the maternal environment on plant physiology has not been clear.
In this study, seeds with the same genotype from two different plantations were grown in identical environments and their relative growth rates, leaf gas exchange and water use efficiencies were compared.
Being able to minimize water loss while maximizing CO2 uptake (i.e. increasing water use efficiency) during photosynthesis is a characteristic of plants adapted to low water availability.
These results could be important because E. grandis is used extensively as a plantation species in potentially changing environments. They could also be useful to those using dynamic vegetation planning models, which currently overlook maternal environmental effects.
Source: Vivas, M., Rolo, V., Wingfield, M.J. & Slippers, B. (2019). Maternal environment regulates morphological and physiological traits in Eucalyptus grandis. Forest Ecology and Management, 432, 631–636.