Watson-Lazowski A, Lin Y, Miglietta F, Edwards RJ, Chapman MA & Taylor G (2016): Plant adaptation or acclimation to rising CO2? Insight from first multigenerational RNA-Seq transcriptome. Glob Chang Biol. Adv. access. doi: 10.1111/gcb.13322
Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2 ) directly determines the rate of plant photosynthesis and indirectly effects plant productivity and fitness and may therefore act as a selective pressure driving evolution, but evidence to support this contention is sparse. Using Plantago lanceolata L. seed collected from a naturally high CO2 spring and adjacent ambient CO2 control site, we investigated multigenerational response to future, elevated atmospheric CO2 . Plants were grown in either ambient or elevated CO2 (700 μmol mol-1 ), enabling for the first time, characterization of the functional and population genomics of plant acclimation and adaptation to elevated CO2 . This revealed that spring and control plants differed significantly in phenotypic plasticity for traits underpinning fitness including above-ground biomass, leaf size, epidermal cell size and number and stomatal density and index. Gene expression responses to elevated CO2 (acclimation) were modest [33-131 genes differentially expressed (DE)], whilst those between control and spring plants (adaptation) were considerably larger (689-853 DE genes). In contrast, population genomic analysis showed that genetic differentiation between spring and control plants was close to zero, with no fixed differences, suggesting that plants are adapted to their native CO2 environment at the level of gene expression. An unusual phenotype of increased stomatal index in spring but not control plants in elevated CO2 correlated with altered expression of stomatal patterning genes between spring and control plants for three loci (YODA, CDKB1;1 and SCRM2) and between ambient and elevated CO2 for four loci (ER, YODA, MYB88 and BCA1). We propose that the two positive regulators of stomatal number (SCRM2) and CDKB1;1 when upregulated act as key controllers of stomatal adaptation to elevated CO2 . Combined with significant transcriptome reprogramming of photosynthetic and dark respiration and enhanced growth in spring plants, we have identified the potential basis of plant adaptation to high CO2 likely to occur over coming decades.