Patterns of storage tissue and starch distribution in the young taproot of obligate seeders and resprouters of Australian Proteaceae (Juss.): Possible evidence of homoplastic evolution

Barbara J. Bowen, John S. Pate

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    The ancient Gondwanan family Proteaceae has its greatest speciation in fire-prone environments of Australia. Fire response is either by seedling recruitment from parent plants that succumb to fire (obligate seeders), or survival and resprouting from protected buds (resprouters). Starch is the main source of energy for resprouting and in roots is restricted to parenchyma tissue. This study compared the size and distribution of storage parenchyma and the magnitude of starch reserves in roots of several proteaceous species from different genera in relation to their fire response and taxonomy. Cross-sections (2 μm) of roots of 51 resprouter and 42 seeder species from 12 genera were stained for starch. Areas of cortex and ray parenchyma along with starch grain density were measured using image analysis software (Assess 2.0) and comparable samples of root tissue were assayed chemically for starch. Starch, where present, predominated in ray and cortex tissue with a greater percentage in resprouters (13.4 ± 1.03) than seeders (1.8 ± 0.26); these results correlated significantly with the chemical assay for starch (r = 0.93, P < 0.0001). Resprouters also had more storage parenchyma (56.9 ± 1.72%) than seeders (41.9 ± 1.91%) mostly due to broader rays (17.5 ± 1.22%) compared with seeders (8.2 ± 0.16%). Percentage of cortex tissue was similar for seeders and resprouters (39.4 ± 2.24 and 33.7 ± 2.04 respectively). Anatomical preferences for storage site were consistent within genera and broad suprageneric groupings. This study shows that histological analysis of root starch is a reliable predictor of resprouting capacity in Proteaceae and that patterns of storage tissue within genera, together with the persistence of parenchyma devoid of starch in seeders, are consistent with response to fire and suggests homoplastic evolution of this response within the family.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)617-629
    JournalAustral Ecology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


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