Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Morpho-physiological plasticity contributes to tolerance of Calluna vulgaris in an active geothermal field

G. Bartoli A , S. Bottega A , L. M. C. Forino A , M. Ruffini Castiglione A , A. M. Tagliasacchi A , I. Grilli A and C. Spanò A B

A Department of Biology, University of Pisa, Via Luca Ghini 5, 56126 Pisa, Italy.

B Corresponding author. Email: cspano@biologia.unipi.it

Australian Journal of Botany 61(2) 107-118 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/BT12174
Submitted: 28 June 2012  Accepted: 20 January 2013   Published: 28 February 2013

Abstract

Geothermal alteration fields are very prohibitive environments, limiting vegetation establishment and growth. In the present study, the ecological specialisation of the pioneer plant Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull was investigated, assuming that its ability to survive in geothermal habitats derives from a fine regulation of morpho-physiological traits. Mature leaves of C. vulgaris were sampled from plants close to a fumarole (near), and from plants living at a distance of some metres (intermediate) or ~1 km (distant) from a fumarole. Along the sampling sites, a gradient of soil-pH and temperature values occurred, with near plants facing the highest soil temperature and the lowest soil pH. A regulation of constitutive morpho-anatomical and physiological traits in response to different stress levels occurred. A progressive reduction of leaf exposed surface and hair density and mucilages, combined with a gradual increase of oxidative stress levels, of phenols and ascorbate, was observed from distant to near plants. Near plants showed an increase in stomatal density and in lignin and cuticle thickness, and the highest activity of ascorbate peroxidase. Except for high glutathione concentrations, in distant plants antioxidant machinery was consistently less active. The apparent morphological and physiological plasticity demonstrated in the present research contributed to the capability of these plants to tolerate the prohibitive, highly changing environmental conditions of the geothermal field.


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