Phyllanthus balgooyi (Phyllanthaceae), one of > 20 nickel (Ni) hyperaccumulator plant species known in Sabah (Malaysia) on the island of Borneo, is remarkable because it contains > 16 wt% Ni in its phloem sap, the second highest concentration of Ni in any living material in the world (after Pycnandra acuminata (Sapotaceae) from New Caledonia with 25 wt% Ni in latex). This study focused on the tissue-level distribution of Ni and other elements in the leaves, petioles and stem of P. balgooyi using nuclear microprobe imaging (micro-PIXE). The results show that in the stems and petioles of P. balgooyi Ni concentrations were very high in the phloem, while in the leaves there was significant enrichment of this element in the major vascular bundles. In the leaves, cobalt (Co) was codistributed with Ni, while the distribution of manganese (Mn) was different. The highest enrichment of calcium (Ca) in the stems was in the periderm, the epidermis and subepidermis of the petiole, and in the palisade mesophyll of the leaf. Preferential accumulation of Ni in the vascular tracts suggests that Ni is present in a metabolically active form. The elemental distribution of P. balgooyi differs from those of many other Ni hyperaccumulator plant species from around the world where Ni is preferentially accumulated in leaf epidermal cells.
Although fine roots are important components of the global carbon cycle, there is limited understanding of root structure-function relationships among species. We determined whether root respiration rate and decomposability, two key processes driving carbon cycling but always studied separately, varied with root morphological and chemical traits, in a coordinated way that would demonstrate the existence of a root economics spectrum (RES). Twelve traits were measured on fine roots (diameter ≤ 2 mm) of 74 species (31 graminoids and 43 herbaceous and dwarf shrub eudicots) collected in three biomes. The findings of this study support the existence of a RES representing an axis of trait variation in which root respiration was positively correlated to nitrogen concentration and specific root length and negatively correlated to the root dry matter content, lignin : nitrogen ratio and the remaining mass after decomposition. This pattern of traits was highly consistent within graminoids but less consistent within eudicots, as a result of an uncoupling between decomposability and morphology, and of heterogeneity of individual roots of eudicots within the fine-root pool. The positive relationship found between root respiration and decomposability is essential for a better understanding of vegetation-soil feedbacks and for improving terrestrial biosphere models predicting the consequences of plant community changes for carbon cycling.
How tropical trees flower synchronously near the equator in the absence of significant day length variation or other meteorological cues has long been a puzzle. The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is used as a model to investigate this phenomenon. The annual cycle of solar radiation intensity is shown to correspond closely with the flowering of the rubber tree planted near the equator and in the subtropics. Unlike in temperate regions, where incoming solar radiation (insolation) is dependent on both day length and radiation intensity, insolation at the equator is due entirely to the latter. Insolation at the upper atmosphere peaks twice a year during the spring and autumn equinoxes, but the actual solar radiation that reaches the ground is attenuated to varying extents in different localities. The rubber tree shows one or two flowering seasons a year (with major and minor seasons in the latter) in accordance with the solar radiation intensity received. High solar radiation intensity, and in particular bright sunshine (as distinct from prolonged diffuse radiation), induces synchronous anthesis and blooming in Hevea around the time of the equinoxes. The same mechanism may be operational in other tropical tree species.
*Three Bornean pitcher plant species, Nepenthes lowii, N. rajah and N. macrophylla, produce modified pitchers that 'capture' tree shrew faeces for nutritional benefit. Tree shrews (Tupaia montana) feed on exudates produced by glands on the inner surfaces of the pitcher lids and defecate into the pitchers. *Here, we tested the hypothesis that pitcher geometry in these species is related to tree shrew body size by comparing the pitcher characteristics with those of five other 'typical' (arthropod-trapping) Nepenthes species. *We found that only pitchers with large orifices and lids that are concave, elongated and oriented approximately at right angles to the orifice capture faeces. The distance from the tree shrews' food source (that is, the lid nectar glands) to the front of the pitcher orifice precisely matches the head plus body length of T. montana in the faeces-trapping species, and is a function of orifice size and the angle of lid reflexion. *Substantial changes to nutrient acquisition strategies in carnivorous plants may occur through simple modifications to trap geometry. This extraordinary plant-animal interaction adds to a growing body of evidence that Nepenthes represents a candidate model for adaptive radiation with regard to nitrogen sequestration strategies.
The distribution patterns of tropical ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi along altitudinal gradients remain largely unknown. Furthermore, despite being an iconic site for biodiversity research, virtually nothing is known about the diversity and spatial patterns of fungi on Mt Kinabalu and neighbouring mountain ranges. We carried out deep DNA sequencing of soil samples collected between 425 and 4000 m above sea level to compare richness and community composition of ECM fungi among altitudinal forest types in Borneo. In addition, we tested whether the observed patterns are driven by habitat or by geometric effect of overlapping ranges of species (mid-domain effect). Community composition of ECM fungi was strongly correlated with elevation. In most genera, richness peaked in the mid-elevation montane forest zone, with the exception of tomentelloid fungi, which showed monotonal decrease in richness with increasing altitude. Richness in lower-mid- and mid-elevations was significantly greater than predicted under the mid-domain effect model. We provide the first insight into the composition of ECM fungal communities and their strong altitudinal turnover in Borneo. The high richness and restricted distribution of many ECM fungi in the montane forests suggest that mid-elevation peak richness is primarily driven by environmental characteristics of this habitat and not by the mid-domain effect.
Tree mortality rates appear to be increasing in moist tropical forests (MTFs) with significant carbon cycle consequences. Here, we review the state of knowledge regarding MTF tree mortality, create a conceptual framework with testable hypotheses regarding the drivers, mechanisms and interactions that may underlie increasing MTF mortality rates, and identify the next steps for improved understanding and reduced prediction. Increasing mortality rates are associated with rising temperature and vapor pressure deficit, liana abundance, drought, wind events, fire and, possibly, CO2 fertilization-induced increases in stand thinning or acceleration of trees reaching larger, more vulnerable heights. The majority of these mortality drivers may kill trees in part through carbon starvation and hydraulic failure. The relative importance of each driver is unknown. High species diversity may buffer MTFs against large-scale mortality events, but recent and expected trends in mortality drivers give reason for concern regarding increasing mortality within MTFs. Models of tropical tree mortality are advancing the representation of hydraulics, carbon and demography, but require more empirical knowledge regarding the most common drivers and their subsequent mechanisms. We outline critical datasets and model developments required to test hypotheses regarding the underlying causes of increasing MTF mortality rates, and improve prediction of future mortality under climate change.
What causes individual tree death in tropical forests remains a major gap in our understanding of the biology of tropical trees and leads to significant uncertainty in predicting global carbon cycle dynamics. We measured individual characteristics (diameter at breast height, wood density, growth rate, crown illumination and crown form) and environmental conditions (soil fertility and habitat suitability) for 26 425 trees ≥ 10 cm diameter at breast height belonging to 416 species in a 52-ha plot in Lambir Hills National Park, Malaysia. We used structural equation models to investigate the relationships among the different factors and tree mortality. Crown form (a proxy for mechanical damage and other stresses) and prior growth were the two most important factors related to mortality. The effect of all variables on mortality (except habitat suitability) was substantially greater than expected by chance. Tree death is the result of interactions between factors, including direct and indirect effects. Crown form/damage and prior growth mediated most of the effect of tree size, wood density, fertility and habitat suitability on mortality. Large-scale assessment of crown form or status may result in improved prediction of individual tree death at the landscape scale.
Whole-genome duplications (WGDs) are widespread and prevalent in vascular plants and frequently coincide with major episodes of global and climatic upheaval, including the mass extinction at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary (c. 65 Ma) and during more recent periods of global aridification in the Miocene (c. 10-5 Ma). Here, we explore WGDs in the diverse flowering plant clade Malpighiales. Using transcriptomes and complete genomes from 42 species, we applied a multipronged phylogenomic pipeline to identify, locate, and determine the age of WGDs in Malpighiales using three means of inference: distributions of synonymous substitutions per synonymous site (Ks ) among paralogs, phylogenomic (gene tree) reconciliation, and a likelihood-based gene-count method. We conservatively identify 22 ancient WGDs, widely distributed across Malpighiales subclades. Importantly, these events are clustered around the Eocene-Paleocene transition (c. 54 Ma), during which time the planet was warmer and wetter than any period in the Cenozoic. These results establish that the Eocene Climatic Optimum likely represents a previously unrecognized period of prolific WGDs in plants, and lends further support to the hypothesis that polyploidization promotes adaptation and enhances plant survival during episodes of global change, especially for tropical organisms like Malpighiales, which have tight thermal tolerances.
Plant functional traits regulate ecosystem functions but little is known about how co-occurring gradients of land use and edaphic conditions influence their expression. We test how gradients of logging disturbance and soil properties relate to community-weighted mean traits in logged and old-growth tropical forests in Borneo. We studied 32 physical, chemical and physiological traits from 284 tree species in eight 1 ha plots and measured long-term soil nutrient supplies and plant-available nutrients. Logged plots had greater values for traits that drive carbon capture and growth, whilst old-growth forests had greater values for structural and persistence traits. Although disturbance was the primary driver of trait expression, soil nutrients explained a statistically independent axis of variation linked to leaf size and nutrient concentration. Soil characteristics influenced trait expression via nutrient availability, nutrient pools, and pH. Our finding, that traits have dissimilar responses to land use and soil resource availability, provides robust evidence for the need to consider the abiotic context of logging when predicting plant functional diversity across human-modified tropical forests. The detection of two independent axes was facilitated by the measurement of many more functional traits than have been examined in previous studies.
Mitochondrial respiration and tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle activity are required during salt stress in plants to provide ATP and reductants for adaptive processes such as ion exclusion, compatible solute synthesis and reactive oxygen species (ROS) detoxification. However, there is a poor mechanistic understanding of how salinity affects mitochondrial metabolism, particularly respiratory substrate source. To determine the mechanism of respiratory changes under salt stress in wheat leaves, we conducted an integrated analysis of metabolite content, respiratory rate and targeted protein abundance measurements. Also, we investigated the direct effect of salt on mitochondrial enzyme activities. Salt-treated wheat leaves exhibit higher respiration rate and extensive metabolite changes. The activity of the TCA cycle enzymes pyruvate dehydrogenase complex and the 2-oxoglutarate dehydrogenase complex were shown to be directly salt-sensitive. Multiple lines of evidence showed that the γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) shunt was activated under salt treatment. During salt exposure, key metabolic enzymes required for the cyclic operation of the TCA cycle are physiochemically inhibited by salt. This inhibition is overcome by increased GABA shunt activity, which provides an alternative carbon source for mitochondria that bypasses salt-sensitive enzymes, to facilitate the increased respiration of wheat leaves.