Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology
EVOLUTIONARY REVIEW

Evolution of halophytes: multiple origins of salt tolerance in land plants

Timothy J. Flowers A B E , Hanaa K. Galal A C and Lindell Bromham D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Biology and Environmental Science, School of Life Sciences, John Maynard Smith Building, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9QG, UK.

B School of Plant Biology, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

C Faculty of Science, Assiut University, Assiut 71516, Egypt.

D Centre for Macroevolution and Macroecology, Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: t.j.flowers@sussex.ac.uk

This paper is part of an ongoing series: ‘The Evolution of Plant Functions’.

Functional Plant Biology 37(7) 604-612 https://doi.org/10.1071/FP09269
Submitted: 6 November 2009  Accepted: 3 March 2010   Published: 2 July 2010

Abstract

The evolution of salt tolerance is interesting for several reasons. First, since salt-tolerant plants (halophytes) employ several different mechanisms to deal with salt, the evolution of salt tolerance represents a fascinating case study in the evolution of a complex trait. Second, the diversity of mechanisms employed by halophytes, based on processes common to all plants, sheds light on the way that a plant’s physiology can become adapted to deal with extreme conditions. Third, as the amount of salt-affected land increases around the globe, understanding the origins of the diversity of halophytes should provide a basis for the use of novel species in bioremediation and conservation. In this review we pose the question, how many times has salt tolerance evolved since the emergence of the land plants some 450–470 million years ago? We summarise the physiological mechanisms underlying salt-tolerance and provide an overview of the number and diversity of salt-tolerant terrestrial angiosperms (defined as plants that survive to complete their life cycle in at least 200 mM salt). We consider the evolution of halophytes using information from fossils and phylogenies. Finally, we discuss the potential for halophytes to contribute to agriculture and land management and ask why, when there are naturally occurring halophytes, it is proving to be difficult to breed salt-tolerant crops.

Additional keywords: phylogeny, saline agriculture, salinity.


Acknowledgements

HKG would like to than the Egyptian Government for financial support while at the University of Sussex and our thanks also go to Jessica Thomas and Katherine Byron for assistance in earlier stages of this project.


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