, Volume 151, Issue 1, pp 41-49

The bryophyte paradox: tolerance of desiccation, evasion of drought

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Abstract

Vascular plants represent one strategy of adaptation to the uneven and erratic supply of water on land. Desiccation-tolerant (DT) bryophytes represent an alternative, photosynthesising and growing when water is freely available, and suspending metabolism when it is not. By contrast with vascular plants, DT bryophytes are typically ectohydric, carrying external capillary water which can vary widely in quantity without affecting the water status of the cells. External water is important in water conduction, and results in bryophyte leaf cells functioning for most of the time at full turgor; water stress is a relatively brief transient phase before full desiccation. All bryophytes are C3 plants, and their cells are essentially mesophytic in important physiological respects. Their carbohydrate content shows parallels with that of maturing embryos of DT seeds. Initial recovery from moderate periods of desiccation is very rapid, and substantial elements of it appear to be independent of protein synthesis. Desiccation tolerance in effect acts as a device that evades the problems of drought, and in various adaptive features DT bryophytes are more comparable with (mesic) desert ephemerals or temperate winter annuals (but on a shorter time scale, with DT vegetative tissues substituting for DT seeds) than with drought-tolerant vascular plants.