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Biology LibreTexts

10.2: Introduction

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  • In labs Roots and the Movement of Water - How is water moved through a plant? - Leaf Anatomy, you learned the typical anatomy, morphology, and organization of plant tissues and organs. However, over the course of each different plant’s evolutionary history, environmental pressures can lead to modifications of these features in predictable ways that we can then classify. For example, plants that frequently encounter drought will experience selection for the ability to access water when there is no water in the environment. The plants that evolve water-storage will have better survival in this environment and are more likely to successfully reproduce. However, animals in this dry environment might then seek out their water-filled tissues. Plants that either hide or protect these water reserves are more likely to survive and experience less herbivory. Over time, as the environment continues to select for these defenses, they improve. And thus, over long periods of evolutionary time, one lineage of plants evolves into cacti, while another related lineage evolves in a different environment to be carnations.

    There are many selective pressures on plants. As you saw in lab Leaf Anatomy, climate has a strong selective effect on the anatomy and morphology of plants, particularly water availability and access to sunlight. Herbivory is another strong selective pressure, as plants cannot run away from their predators. Instead, they must evolve other deterrents while balancing the energy costs required for these adaptations with energy devoted to reproduction. A third strong selective pressure is nutrient availability, which is often determined by the soil environment. For example, serpentine soils have low levels of nitrogen and calcium. Plants in serpentine habitats often evolve the ability to trap and digest insects to absorb the missing nutrients. These “carnivorous” plants are not heterotrophic, because they do not use the trapped insects as an energy source.

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