Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Flowering in snow tussock (Chionochloa spp.) is influenced by temperature and hormonal cues

Matthew H. Turnbull A D , Richard P. Pharis B , Leonid V. Kurepin B , Michal Sarfati A , Lewis N. Mander C and Dave Kelly A

A School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand.

B Biological Sciences Department, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada.

C Research School of Chemistry, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: matthew.turnbull@canterbury.ac.nz

Functional Plant Biology 39(1) 38-50 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/FP11116
Submitted: 11 May 2011  Accepted: 17 October 2011   Published: 29 November 2011

Abstract

Snow tussocks (Chionochloa spp.) in New Zealand exhibit extreme mast (episodic) seeding which has important implications for plant ecology and plant–insect interactions. Heavy flowering appears to be triggered by very warm/dry summers in the preceding year. In order to investigate the physiological basis for mast flowering, mature snow tussock plants in the field and younger plants in a glasshouse and shadehouse were subjected to a range of manipulative treatments. Field treatments included combinations of warming, root pruning and applications of two native gibberellins (GAs) GA3, which is known to be highly floral inductive and GA4, which is associated with continued floral apex development in another long-day grass. Warming, GA3 alone and especially warming + GA3, significantly promoted flowering, as did applications of GA4 alone and GA4 + CCC (2-chloroethyltrimethylammonium chloride, which is a known synergist of GA3-induced flowering in the annual grass, Lolium temulentum L.). Our results provide support for the concept that mast flowering events in tussock species are causally related to high temperature-induced increases in endogenous gibberellin levels. It is likely that GAs (endogenous or applied) promote the continued development of a previously long-day induced floral apex. In addition to the promotion of flowering, applied GA3 also disturbed the plant’s innate resource threshold requirements, as shown by the death, over winter, of many non-flowering tillers. Applied GA4 did not show this effect, likely due to its rapid catabolic metabolism to an inactive form. High temperature-induced flowering mediated by elevated levels of endogenous floral-promotive GAs could have important implications for regulating the evolutionary interaction between these masting plants and their seed predators.

Additional keywords: Chionochloa pallens ssp. cadens, Chionochloa rubra ssp. cuprea, gibberellins, hormones, mast seeding, predator satiation, resource limitation, root pruning, temperature.


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