Water limitation is an important determinant of the distribution, abundance and diversity of plant species. Yet, little is known about how the response to limiting water supply changes among closely related plant species with distinct ecological preferences. Comparison of the model annual species Arabidopsis thaliana with its close perennial relatives A. lyrata and A. halleri, can help disentangle the molecular and physiological changes contributing to tolerance and avoidance mechanisms, because these species must maintain tolerance and avoidance mechanisms to increase long-term survival, but they are exposed to different levels of water stress and competition in their natural habitat.
Bouzid and colleagues conducted dry-down experiment to mimic a period of missing precipitation. The covariation of a progressive decrease in soil water content (SWC) with various physiological and morphological plant traits across a set of representative genotypes in A. thaliana, A. lyrata and A. halleri was quantified. Transcriptome changes to soil dry-down were further monitored.
The response of the three Arabidopsis species to soil dry-down reveals that they have evolved distinct strategies to face drought stress. These strategic differences are in agreement with the distinct ecological priorities of the stress-tolerant A. lyrata, the competitive A. halleri and the ruderal A. thaliana.