Arxiu d'etiquetes: diversity

The plants and the climate change

Since a few years ago, we have heard about the climate change. Nowadays, it is already evident and also a concern. This not only affects to us, the humans, but to all kind of life. It has been talked enough about the global warming, but perhaps, what happens to the vegetation has not been much diffused. There are many things affected by climate change and vegetation is also one of them. In addition, the changes in this also affect us. But, what are these changes? how can the vegetation regulate them? And how we can help to mitigate them through plants?


Biomes distribution

In general, due to climate change, an increase of precipitations in some parts of the world are expected, while in others a decrease is awaited. A global temperature increment is also denoted. This leads to an alteration in the location of the biomes, large units of vegetation (e.g.: savannas, tropical forests, tundras, etc.).

Biome triangle classified by latitude, altitude and humidity (Author: Peter Halasaz).

On the other hand, there is an upward trend in the distribution of species in the high latitudes and a detriment in the lower latitudes. This has serious associated problems; the change in the species distribution affects their conservation and genetic diversity. Consequently, the marginal populations in lower latitudes, which have been considered very important for the long-term conservation of genetic diversity and due their evolutionary potential, are threatened by this diversity loss. And conversely, the populations in high latitudes would be affected by the arrival of other competing species that could displace those already present, being as invasive.

Species distribution

Within the scenario of climate change, species have some ability to adjust their distribution and to adapt to this.

But, what type of species may be responding more quickly to this change? It appears that those with a faster life cycle and a higher dispersion capacity will be showing more adaptability and a better response. This could lead to a loss of some plants with slower rates.

Galactites tomentosa
The Purple milk Thistle (Galactites tomentosa) is a plant with a fast life cycle and high distribution capacity  (Author: Ghislain118).

One factor that facilitates adjustment in the distribution is the presence of wildlife corridors: these are parts of the geographical area that enable connectivity and movement of species from one population to another. They are important because they prevent that some species can remain isolated and because they can also allow the movement to new regions.

Another factor is the altitudinal gradient, which provides shelter for many species, facilitates the presence of wildlife corridors and permits redistribution of species along altitude. Therefore, in those territories where there is greater altitudinal range, the conservation is favored.

In short, the ability of species to cope with climate change depends on the plant characteristics and the territory attributes. And, conversely, the species vulnerability to climate change occurs when the speed to displace their distribution or adapt their lives is less than the climate change velocity.

At internal level

Climate change also affects the plant as an organism, as it causes changes in their metabolism and phenology (periodic or seasonal rhythms of the plant).

One of the effects that pushes the climate change is the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration increase in the atmosphere. This could produce a fertilization phenomenon of vegetation. Due the COincrease in the atmosphere it also increases the uptake by plants, thus increasing the photosynthesis and allowing greater assimilation. But, this is not all advantages, because for this an important water loss occurs due that the stomata (structures that allow gas exchange and transpiration) remain open long time to incorporate CO2. So, there are opposing effects and fertilization will depend on the plant itself, but the local climate will also determine this process. Many studies have shown that various plants react differently to the COincrease, since the compound affects various physiological processes and therefore there are not unique responses. Then, we find a factor that alters the plant metabolism and we cannot predict what will be the effects. Furthermore, this fertilizer effect is limited by the nutrients amount and without them production slows.

Photosynthesis process (Author: At09kg).

On the other hand, we must not forget that climate change also alters the weather and that this affects the vegetation growth and its phenology. This can have even an impact on a global scale; for example, could produce an imbalance in the production of cultivated plants for food.


Although one cannot speak of plants as regulators of global climate, it is clear that there is a relationship between climate and vegetation. However, this relationship is somewhat complicated because the vegetation has both effects of cooling and heating the weather.

The vegetation decreases the albedo; dark colours absorb more solar radiation and, in consequence, less sunlight is reflected outward. And besides, as the plants surface is usually rough, the absorption is increased. Consequently, if there is more vegetation, local temperature (transmitted heat) intensifies.

But, on the other hand, by increasing vegetation there is more evapotranspiration (set of water evaporation from a surface and transpiration through the plant). So, the heat is spent on passing the liquid water to gas, leading to a cooling effect. In addition, evapotranspiration also helps increase local rainfall.

Biophysical effects of landcover
Biophysical effects of different land uses and its consequences on the local climate. (From Jackson et al. 2008. Environmental Research Letters.3: article 0440066).

Therefore, it is an ambiguous process and in certain environments the cooling effect outweighs, while in others the heating effect has more relevance.


Nowadays, there are several proposals to reduce climate change, but, in which way can the plants cooperate?

Plant communities can act as a sinks, carbon reservoirs, because through CO2 assimilation, they help to offset carbon emissions. Proper management of agricultural and forest ecosystems can stimulate capture and storage of carbon. On the other hand, if deforestation were reduced and protection of natural habitats and forests increased, emissions would be diminished and this would stimulate the sink effect. Still, there is a risk that these carbon sinks may become emission sources; for example, due to fire.

Finally, we must introduce biofuels: these, unlike fossil fuels (e.g. petroleum), are renewable resources, since they are cultivated plants for use as fuels. Although they fail to remove CO2 from the atmosphere or reduce carbon emissions, they get to avoid this increase in the atmosphere. For this reason, they may not become a strict mitigation measure, but they can keep neutral balance of uptake and release. The problem is that they can lead to side effects on social and environmental level, such as increased prices for other crops or stimulate deforestation to establish these biofuel crops, what should not happen.

Sugarcane crop (Saccharum officinarum) in Brazil to produce biofuel (Author: Mariordo).




If the nymphs were plants, they would be water lilies

This week, I’m going to introduce water lilies, some flowers very nice and known for being important in the ornamentation.


The Nymphaeaceae family has few species and most of them are freshwater aquatic plants in quiet places and commonly are known as water lilies. Because they are aquatic plants, the family’s name is derived from the Latin word nympha, as they have some similarity with nymphs, mythological beings with a predilection for the waters.

1024px-Rae_-_Water_Nymphs_(color)Water nymphs, water lilies can be seen around (Painting by Henrietta Rae, 1909).

The water lilies were originated in warm regions, but they are now subcosmopolitan and can be found in several parts of the world, living in ponds, lakes and freshwater streams.


The water lilies are perennial aquatic plants, they live several years, and are rhizomatous, that is, they have a thickened stem below the soil at the bottom of the water. In some species, we see that some leaves are immersed and others are floating on the water surface, being sometimes even membranous (they have raised edges perpendicularly upward to avoid the ingress of too much water). When this morphological difference happens, we talk about heteromorphous leaves.

Flowering_victoriaWater lily's membranous leaves (Victoria amazonica) (Photo taken by Dirk van der Made).

Their flowers grown out of water and are constituted by a variable number of sepals, petals and stamens, which are helically born. Therefore, flowers are acyclic, that is, are asymmetrical or irregular because they have no symmetric plane. These flowers are solitary, not born grouped, and hermaphrodites, that is, both male (stamens) and female (ovary) sex organs occur in the same flower.

Nenufar-rosa Nymphaea tetragonaPygmy waterlily (Nymphaea tetragona)(Photo taken by Miguel303xm).

These perianth parts (petals and sepals) and stamens are free among them, therefore, they are not united or fused among them, and normally appear in large numbers. The stamens are different to several of other flowers, because they are laminar stamens, similar to the petals. Therefore, they are not filamentous, are thicker and wider.


Currently, the genera of water lilies which have more relevance are Nuphar, Nymphaea and Victoria, but there are also some others. Below I present some cases of very interesting species.

The tiger lotus or Egyptian white water-lily (Nymphaea lotus) is native of the Nile Valley and eastern Africa. It is prized as an ornamental and ancient Egyptians believed that the flower could give strength and power.

800px-Nymphaea_lotus4Egyptian white water-lily (Nymphaea lotus) (Photo taken by Meneerke bloem).

The yellow water-lily (Nuphar lutea) is typical of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and, as the previous one, is also very ornamental. Furthermore, it has been long used in traditional medicine. Its roots were applied on the skin and seeds and roots were eaten to treat different diseases.

Nuphar_lutea_W160Yellow water-lily (Nuphar lutea) (Photo taken by Oksana Golovko).

Finally, I’d want to introduce the genus of Victoria, whose pollinitation is very curious. It has two American species: V. cruziana in Argentina and V. amazonica in the Amazon and Brazil. Plants of this genus are very big, with floating leaves reaching to 2 meters in diameter and with showy flowers which can reach up to 30 centimeters and are opened at evening.When these flowers are opened, strong scents and a little heat are released and with the whitish and beige colours of the petals, they result very attractive to the beetles (Coleoptera) that are feed of starch extensions on the flowers (starch bodies). The next morning, flowers are closed and the beetles are captured within, causing them to be permeated of pollen. At afternoon, flowers are reopened and allow beetles to escape. Then, as the flowers have been pollinated, their colour varies to pink and they also lose scent. Therefore, the beetles feel more attracted to white flowers that have not been pollinated yet. Finally, the pink flowers are dipped.

V. cruziana & V. amazonicaOn the left, V. cruziana (Photo taken by Greenlamplady); On the right, V. amazonica (Photo taken by frank wouters).


Currently, several species are used as ornamentals, decorative. Furthermore, the water lilies can also be used to get food; the seeds and rhizomes of the genera Nymphaea and Victoria are edible. On the other hand, a very curious thing is that the nerves of the leaves of some species have been used to extract a liquid, which has been applied to treat snake bites.

I hope you liked the way the water lilies behave and all their tales and uses that are associated to them, although only for its beauty are charming. If you enjoyed, do not forget to share in different social networks. Thanks for your interest.


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Orchids: different colours and shapes for everyone

The orchid family is composed of a big number of species, about 20.000. Even they are almost around all world, the most live in tropical places and they are epiphytes, that is, they live over other plants. Nowadays, the number of the species is boosted by the commercial interest. Trying to find new characters and colours, many gardeners and hobbyists have created new varieties from the breeding of two distinct species of orchids, that is, they have made artificial hybridization. Even so, it can also happen in nature as usual.


The orchid flower owns a single structure. The most representative part is the column or gynostemium, which is the result of masculine and feminine reproductive parts combined. The perianth, consisting of the calyx (the outermost whorl of parts that form a flower. Its pieces are the sepals) and the corolla (composed of all of the petals), has free pieces and is zygomorphic (single symmetry plane). A much differentiated petal can be seen, it’s the lip. It adopts a different attractive shape and it can own macules (attractive spots for the pollinators). The lip is also adapted to capture the pollinators’ attention and can possess a long prolongation called spur and it has nectar. The flowers may be accompanied by a bract, a modified or specialized leaf.

parts orchidStructure of orchid flowers (Photo taken by Gisela Acosta).

The flower development is very singular in some orchids. Some flowers are born backwards and when they are maturing the ovary twist 180º to help flower stay in proper position, being the own ovary who acts as a peduncle, linking flower and stem. This kind of flower development is called resupinate. The flowers can be solitary or grouped in inflorescences.

orchis masculaResupinate development of flowers (Orchis mascula) (Photo taken by Jonathan Billinger).

The orchids are entomophilous, that is, are pollinated by insects. Depending of the specie, the orchid will be pollinated by a type of insect or other. Even so, this relation or form of pollination (the position in which bees, bumblebees and other hymenoptera get to copulate) cannot be used to describe how evolution happened in orchids; this pollination mechanism was used in the past to classify species, but molecular analyses have denied its worth.

One singular characteristic of tropical species is the velamen radicum: a multi-layered coating on the roots that acts as a sponge. In drought periods this coating protects from the drying and doesn’t allow the losing of water. And in rainy periods, this coating is swollen of water, which will be available to roots. Also, as these orchids are epiphytes, are adapted to drought places.

Pleione_limprichtii_Epiphytic orchid on a tree (Pleione limprichtii) (Photo taken by Adarsh Thakuri)

Orchids live in mutualism with fungus, that is, they establish a relationship in which both organisms are benefited when live together. The orchid seeds need the fungus’ aid to germinate. Many several fungus can stimulate their germination, but  Rhizoctonia (Basidiomycota) is predominant. The fungus degrades the seed coat and releases of dormancy period. Then, the seed begins to germinate and emits filaments, underground organs, and establishes an orchid mycorrhizae. The seed dormancy can last 20-30 years without germinating, but it will not be possible without the fungus action.


Within the great diversity of orchids, some flowers of diferent species create such original shapes that they seem animals, such as monkey orchid (Orchis simia), or insects, such as genus Phalaenopsis; their flowers supposedly resemble moths in flight, and that’s why they are known as the moth orchids.

Orchis simia & Phalaenopsis schillerianaOn the left, monkey orchid (Orchis simia) (Photo taken by Ian Capper); On the right, orchids that resemble moths in flight (Phalaenopsis schilleriana) (Photo taken by Amos Oliver Doyle).

The bee orchids (Ophrys), for example, have a specialized lip that can really attract the hymenopterans. It’s because it reminds female shape and colours and it also emits smells which are similar to female pheromones, doing the pollination more effective.

Ophrys apiferaBee orchid (Ophrys apifera) (Photo taken by Hans Hillewaert).

On the other hand, there are also many curious cases like the Darwin’s orchid (Anagraecum sesquipedale). It’s characterized by its long spur between 25 and 35 cm in length. Darwin guessed it should exist a butterfly that could take the nectar located in the spur and pollinates the flower at the same time. Xanthopan morgani is able and it’s the only one, so it’s one coevolution case.

Angraecum_sesquipedale & XanthopaOn the left, Darwin's orchid (Anagraecum sesquipedale)(Photo taken by Michael Wolf); On the right, Xanthopan morgani (Photo taken by Esculapio).

We can also see species with a high ornamental value, being the most of them from Asia and America. For example, the Cattleya genus has one of the highest floral value and it was used extensively for create new varieties. So, Cattleya has become very popular until today.  A good example is the easter orchid (Cattleya mossiae), which is also the national flower of Venezuela.

Cattleya mossiaeEaster orchid (Cattleya mossiae) (Photo taken by KENPEI).

When we speak of floral value, we can’t forget Rothschild’s slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum rothschildianum). It’s the most expensive orchid in world and it’s considered one of the most expensive flowers, too. Rothschild’s slipper orchid only lives in Mt. Kinabalu, on the island of Borneo, and it’s also one of the rarest orchids in nature of all of the species of Asian Slipper orchids.

Paphiopedilum_rothschildianum_Orchi_108Rothschild's Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum rothschildianum) (Photo taken by Orchi).

Furthermore, orchids are important in alimentation, being surely Vanilla planifolia the most relevant. It’s native to Mexico and vanilla is obtained of its fruits.

Vanilla planifoliaVanilla (Vanilla planifolia) (Photo taken by Michael Doss).


The following sources have been consulted in the elaboration of this entry:

In conclusion, orchids are important in different aspects and that’s why a biggest knowledge of their diversity and biology is necessary. If you liked this article, wouldn’t forget to share it. Thanks for your interest.

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