C4 photosynthetic modifications in the evolutionary transition from land to water in aquatic grasses
Cladistic analysis supports the conclusion that the Orcuttieae tribe of C4 grasses reflect evolution from a terrestrial ancestry into seasonal pools. All nine species in the tribe exhibit adaptations to the aquatic environment, evident in the structural characteristics of the juvenile foliage, which persist submerged for 1–3 months prior to metamorphosis to the terrestrial foliage. Aquatic leaves of the least derived or basal genus Neostapfia have few morphological and anatomical characteristics specialized to the aquatic environment and have retained full expression of the C4 pathway, including Kranz anatomy. Orcuttia species have many derived characteristics and are more specialized to the aquatic environment. These latter species germinate earlier in the season and persist in the submerged stage longer than Neostapfia and evidence from the literature indicates length of submergence is positively correlated with fitness components. Aquatic leaves of Orcuttia species lack Kranz or PCR bundle sheath anatomy, yet 14C-pulse chase studies indicate >95% malate + aspartate as the initial products of photosynthesis and these products turn over rapidly to phosphorylated sugars, indicating a tight coupling of the C4 and C3 cycles. Presence of the C4 pathway is further supported by enzymological data. Contemporary dogma that Kranz anatomy is a sine qua non for operation of the C4 pathway is contradicted by the patterns in Orcuttia; however, it is unknown whether the pathway acts as a CO2 concentrating mechanism in these aquatic plants.
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