Plant Ecology

, Volume 217, Issue 6, pp 661–676 | Cite as

Lignotubers in Mediterranean basin plants

  • Susana Paula
  • Paulette I. Naulin
  • Cristian Arce
  • Consttanza Galaz
  • Juli G. PausasEmail author


Lignotubers are swollen woody structures located at the root-shoot transition zone and contain numerous dormant buds and starch reserves. This structure enables the plant to resprout prolifically after severe disturbances that remove the aboveground biomass. These are considered adaptive traits in ecosystems with highly frequent and severe disturbances—such as fire-prone ecosystems. In this paper, we aim to contribute to the knowledge of lignotubers in the Mediterranean basin and highlight the evolutionary implications. We first summarise existing knowledge on lignotuber species in the Mediterranean basin. We then provide a detailed morpho-anatomical description of early lignotubers in two common woody species (Arbutus unedo L. and Phillyrea angustifolia L.). Finally, we compare our anatomical results with those obtained in studies conducted with other lignotuberous species from different Mediterranean regions. Lignotubers were verified in 14 species in the Mediterranean basin; all being from lineages with origins dating to the Tertiary and thus pre-dating the Mediterranean climate. In A. unedo and P. angustifolia, lignotubers are macroscopically discernible in 4- and 2-year-old saplings, respectively. In these two species, the lignotubers have numerous buds protected by hypertrophied scales, and have a contorted xylem containing abundant starch. Our results challenge the traditional idea that pre-Mediterranean lineages suffered evolutionary inertia; instead, lignotuberous species may be considered examples of plants that adapted to the increased fire activity that occurred throughout the Tertiary and Quaternary. We also highlight the use of morpho-anatomical traits to unambiguously distinguish between lignotuberous and non-lignotuberous resprouting species.


Morpho-anatomy Bud bank Fire adaptations Fire regime Resprouting Tertiary Madrean–Tethyan vegetation 



We are grateful for the invitation to participate in this special issue. This work has been funded by the ‘Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Científico’ from the Chilean government (FONDECYT 1120458), the ‘Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas’ (CSIC, Spain; i-LINK + 2012 n°0556) and the TREVOL project (CGL2012-39938-C02-00) from the Spanish government. PIN is funded by ‘U-inicia 2014 Naulin PI’. We thank the ‘Banc de Llavors Forestals of Generalitat Valenciana’, and especially P. Ferrer, for providing plant material. We also thank G. Valenzuela for his help in the anatomical analysis and F. Ojeda for his anonymous comments. CIDE is supported by CSIC, Generalitat Valenciana and the University of Valencia.

Supplementary material

11258_2015_538_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (9.5 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 9687 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Ciencias Ambientales y EvolutivasUniversidad Austral de ChileValdiviaChile
  2. 2.Laboratorio de Biología de Plantas, Departamento de Silvicultura y Conservación de la NaturalezaUniversidad de ChileSantiagoChile
  3. 3.CIDE-CSICMontcadaSpain

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