, Volume 119, Issue 1-2, pp 119-129,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 28 Jul 2013

The physiological basis for genetic variation in water use efficiency and carbon isotope composition in Arabidopsis thaliana


Ecologists and physiologists have documented extensive variation in water use efficiency (WUE) in Arabidopsis thaliana, as well as association of WUE with climatic variation. Here, we demonstrate correlations of whole-plant transpiration efficiency and carbon isotope composition (δ13C) among life history classes of A. thaliana. We also use a whole-plant cuvette to examine patterns of co-variation in component traits of WUE and δ13C. We find that stomatal conductance (g s) explains more variation in WUE than does A. Overall, there was a strong genetic correlation between A and g s, consistent with selection acting on the ratio of these traits. At a more detailed level, genetic variation in A was due to underlying variation in both maximal rate of carboxylation (V cmax) and maximum electron transport rate (Jmax). We also found strong effects of leaf anatomy, where lines with lower WUE had higher leaf water content (LWC) and specific leaf area (SLA), suggesting a role for mesophyll conductance (g m) in variation of WUE. We hypothesize that this is due to an effect through g m, and test this hypothesis using the abi4 mutant. We show that mutants of ABI4 have higher SLA, LWC, and g m than wild-type, consistent with variation in leaf anatomy causing variation in g m and δ13C. These functional data also add further support to the central, integrative role of ABI4 in simultaneously altering ABA sensitivity, sugar signaling, and CO2 assimilation. Together our results highlight the need for a more holistic approach in functional studies, both for more accurate annotation of gene function and to understand co-limitations to plant growth and productivity.