Plants as specialists in the cold of the Ice Age – sciencedaily

As cold relics in an increasingly warming world, the plants of the Spoonbill Group have repeatedly quickly adapted to climate change during the Ice Age of the past two million years. An international team of evolutionary biologists and botanists led by Professor Dr Marcus Koch of the University of Heidelberg used genomic analyzes to study factors favoring adaptation to extreme climatic conditions. The evolutionary history of the Brassicaceae family provides insight into how plants might be able to cope with climate change in the future.

“With the challenges of increasing global warming, it is increasingly urgent to develop a basic understanding of how plants have adapted to severe environmental changes,” emphasizes Professor Koch, whose working group “Biodiversity and plant systematics” is carrying out research at the Center for the Study of Organisms (COS). In many cases, their evolutionary past also strongly determines the future adaptability of plants as well as their ability to develop into new forms and types, he continues. The spatula genus, or Latin Cochlear, from the Brassicaceae family separated from its Mediterranean parents more than ten million years ago. While their direct descendants specialized in responding to water stress, spoonbills conquered cold, arctic habitats at the start of the Ice Age 2.5 million years ago.

In controlled laboratory experiments, the researchers studied cultivated species from both groups to determine how they repeatedly adapted during alternating cold and warm periods relatively rapidly over the past two million years. “Cold training” indicates that physiological adaptations to drought and salt stress during their early evolution then helped plants develop high tolerance to cold. Although the researchers expected both groups to show a pronounced response to this “cold training,” there does not appear to be a significant difference in response to cold stress between cold specialists in the Arctic and Alpine regions and specialists or dry species adapted to salt. Mediterranean water.

In addition, newly emerged cold-adapted plants developed separate gene pools that frequently came into contact with each other in cold regions. Because spoonbills have virtually no genetic barriers to contact between species, populations with multiple sets of chromosomes have developed which have subsequently been continuously reduced in size. “On many occasions, these species have subsequently been able to occupy cold ecological niches,” explains Marcus Koch.

As the gene pool of arctic cold specialists expanded, the European population of spoonbills has declined since the last ice age. Cold habitats in Europe are disappearing in the face of significant global warming, thus seriously endangering all species of spoonbills. Only the Danish spoonbill, with its abundant sets of chromosomes, remains unharmed and, in some cases, even spreads. “It is the only species of spoonbill that has changed its life cycle and thrives in salty and salty places. In some of its ecological characteristics, it resembles its distant Mediterranean cousins,” adds Professor Koch. For researchers, the physiological adaptability of spatulas makes them a promising model system for simultaneously studying adaptations to drought, cold and salt stress.

The research was carried out mainly within the framework of the priority program “Scalable plant solutions to ecological challenges” (SPP 1529) of the German Research Foundation. The data is available in a public access database. The research results were published in the journal eLife.

Source of the story:

Material provided by University of Heidelberg. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.