Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Natural selection on the plant-water relations of Cleome serrulata growing along natural moisture gradients


I investigated the extent and adaptive importance of genetically-based variation in plant water relations in two populations of the annual plant Cleome serrulata found growing along relatively short (<30 m) and mild soil moisture gradients. Field measurements of predawn plant water potentials showed that plants at the dry end of the moisture gradients had consistently lower ψPlant in May and June of 1984; differences up to 0.9 MPa were seen along the gradients. Seeds were collected from maternal plants growing along the moisture gradients and then grown under well-watered conditions in the greenhouse. Pressure-volume curves were constructed for a total of 92 seedlings from 25 maternal plants when the seedlings were four weeks old.

Considerable genetic variation in the four highly correlated water potential components was seen in both populations, suggesting relatively high heritabilities (h2≈0.5). A partial correlation analysis revealed that cell wall elasticity was higher in seedlings from maternal plants which grew in the dry portions of each site. This suggested that natural selection had acted on this character during one or more previous generations. It appears that slight variations in the physiological genotype can significantly affect overall fitness in C. serulata.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Antlfinger AE (1981) The genetic basis of microdifferentiation in natural and experimental populations of Borrichia frutescens in relation to salinity. Evolution 35:1056–1068

  2. Antlfinger AE, Curtis WF, Solbrig OT (1985) Environmental and genetic determinants of plant size in Viola sororia. Evolution 39:1053–1064

  3. Cheung YNS, Tyree MT, Dainty J (1975) Water relations parameters on single leaves obtained in a pressure bomb and some ecological interpretations. Can J Bot 53:1342–1346

  4. Clayton-Green KA (1983) The tissue water relationships of Callitris columellaris, Eucalyptus melliodora and Eucalyptus microcarpa investigated using the pressure-volume technique. Oecologia (Berlin) 57:368–307

  5. Cook RE (1979) Patterns of juvenile mortality and recruitment in plants. p. 207–231, In: Solbrig OT, Jain S, Johnson GB, Raven PH (eds) Topics in plant population biology. Columbia University Press, New York, pp 207–231

  6. Dirzo R, Sarukhan J (1984) Introduction. In: Dirzo R and Sarukhan J (eds) Perspectives in plant population biology. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Mass, pp 3–7

  7. Falconer KS (1981) Introduction to quantitative genetics, 2nd ed. Longman, London

  8. Fanous MA (1967) Test for drought resistance in pearl millet (Pennisetum typiodeum) Agron J 59:340

  9. Farris MA (1985) Demographic variation and natural selection in an annual plant growing along soil moisture gradients. PhD Diss, Univ of Colorado, Boulder, CO USA

  10. Greacen EL, Oh JS (1972) Physics of root growth. Nature New Biol 235:24–25

  11. Hsaio TC (1973) Plant responses to water stress. Annual Rev Pl Physiol 24:519–570

  12. Iltis HH (1957) Studies in the Capparidaceae. III. Evolution and phylogeny of the western North American Cleomoideae. Ann Mo Bot Gard 44:77–119

  13. Jordan PW, Nobel PS (1981) Seedling establishment of Ferocactus acanthodes in relation to drought. Ecology 62:901–906

  14. Kassam AH, Elston JF (1976) Changes with age in the status of water and tissue characteristics in individual leaves of Vicea fabia L. Ann Bot 40:669–679

  15. Knapp AK (1984) Water relations and growth of three grasses during wet and drought years in a tallgrass prairie. Oecologia (Berlin) 65:35–43

  16. Ladiges PY (1975) Some aspects of tissue water relations in three populations of Eucalyptus viminalis Labill. New Phytol 75:53–62

  17. Louda S, Farris MA, Blua M (1987) Variation in methylglucosinolate and danage to Cleome serrulata along a natural soil moisture gradient. J Chem Ecol 13:569–581

  18. Luce SL (1983) A study of the pollination ecology and reproductive strategies of Cleome serrulata (Pursh) MS Thesis, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA

  19. McKell CM, Perrier ER, Stebbins GL (1960) Responses of two subspecies of orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata subsp Lusitanica and judaica) to increasing soil moisture stress. Ecology 41:722–778

  20. Meyer RF, Boyer JS (1972) Sensitivity of cell division and cell elongation to low water potentials in soybean hypocotyls. Planta 108:77–78

  21. Mitchell-Olds T, Rutledge JJ (1986) Quantitative genetics in natural plant populations: a review of the theory. Ann Nat 127:379–402

  22. Monson RK, Smith SD (1982) Seasonal water potential components of Sonoran desert plants. Ecology 63:113–123

  23. Mooney HA, Chiariello NR (1984) The study of plant function: the plant as a belanced system. In: Dirzo R, Sarukhan J (eds) Perspectives in plant population biology. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Mass, pp 305–323

  24. Nilsen ET, Sharifi MR, Rundel PW, Jarrell WM, Virginia RA (1983) Diurnal and seasonal water relations of the desert phreatophyte Prosopis glandulosa (honey mesquite) in the Sonoran desert of California. Ecology 64:1381–1393

  25. Osmond CB, Bjorkman O, Anderson DJ (1980) Physiological processes in plant ecology: toward a synthesis with Atriplex. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York

  26. Osonubi O, Davies WJ (1981) Root growth and water relations of oak and birch seedlings. Oecologia (Berlin) 51:343–350

  27. Pavlik BM (1984) Seasonal changes of osmotic pressure, symplasmic water content and tissue elasticity in the blades of dune grasses growing in situ along the coast of Oregon. Plant Cell Environ 7:531–539

  28. Raynal DJ, Bazzaz FA (1973) Establishment of early successional plant populations on forest and prairie soil. Ecology 54:1335–1341

  29. Robichaux RH (1984) Variation in the tissue water relations of two sympatric Hawaiian Dubautia species and their natural hybrid. Oecologia (Berlin) 65:75–81

  30. Roy J, Mooney HA (1982) Physiological adaptation and plasticity to water stress of coastal and desert populations of Heliotropium curassavicum L. Oecologia (Berlin) 52:370–375

  31. Salzman A (1985) Habitat selection in a clonal plant. Science 228:603–604

  32. Silander JA, Antonovics J (1979) The genetic basis of the ecological amplitude of Spartina patens. I. Morphometric and physiological traits. Evolution 33:1114–1127

  33. Sullivan CY (1972) Mechanisms of heat and drought resistance in grain Sorghum and methods of measurement. In: Rao NGP, House LR (eds) Sorghum in the seventies. IBH Publ Co, New Delhi, pp 247–264

  34. Tyree MT, Hammel HT (1972) The measurement of the turgor pressure and the water relations of plants by the pressure-bomb technique. J Exp Bot 23:267–282

  35. Tyree MT, Jarvis PG (1982) Water in tissues and cells. In: Lange OL, Nobel PS, Osmond CB, Ziegler H (eds) Encyclopedia of Plant Physiology (New Series) Vol 12 B. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 35–77

  36. Via S (1984) The quantitative genetics of polyphagy in an insect herbivore. II. Genetic correlations in larval performance within and among host plants. Evolution 38:896–905

  37. Wilson JR, Fiher MJ, Schulze E-D, Dolby GR, Ludlow MM (1979) Comparison between pressure-volume and dewpoint-hygrometry techniques for determining the water relations characteristics of grass and legume leaves. Oecologia (Berlin) 41:77–88

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Farris, M.A. Natural selection on the plant-water relations of Cleome serrulata growing along natural moisture gradients. Oecologia 72, 434–439 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00377576

Download citation


  • Population variability
  • Adaptation to water stress
  • Water potential
  • Pressure volume curves