News Release

A broad look at plant-environment interactions

Cross-journal collaboration takes an interdisciplinary approach to how plants respond to their environment

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Botanical Society of America

When faced with complex and difficult questions, such as how plants interact with their environment, sometimes the best approach is to bring together many different approaches. Three separate journals--the American Journal of Botany (AJB), Applications in Plant Sciences (APPS), and the International Journal of Plant Sciences (IJPS)--recently joined efforts to bring attention to these interactions from a variety of perspectives.

The February issues of each journal featured research on plant-environment interactions--each from a different angle. Articles in AJB looked at plant stress, reproduction, and mutualisms; articles in APPS focused on novel methods and tools to study plant-environment interactions; and articles in IJPS focused on the paleobotanical and morphological perspectives.

"The breadth of work in these special issues and sections speaks to how modern plant biology pulls from across these disciplines," said Dr. Katy Heath, Associate Professor of Plant Biology at the University of Illinois, and one of the editors of the AJB special issue. For example, "Understanding how plants will respond to future climate change takes an interdisciplinary approach that learns from the past (paleoecology, palynology, evolution) and the present (physiology, ecology, genetics)."

Indeed, the scope of the work is quite broad, spanning from computational modeling of ancient climates based on fossil plant community records (Harbert and Baryiames (2020) in APPS) to a study of stressed-out sex-switching in striped maple trees (Blake-Mahmud and Struwe (2020b) in AJB). But as disparate as the topics and methods in these issues may seem, advances in understanding plant-environment interactions in one dimension can meaningfully inform thinking and experimental techniques in another.

In some cases, different techniques were brought to bear on related questions, such as Dr. Courtney Murren's investigations of how soil characteristics affect natural selection on root traits, and phenotypic plasticity, in Arabidopsis thaliana. Dr. Murren used phenotypic analysis of wild populations growing in the field and in a common garden experiment to investigate natural selection on root traits (Murren et al. (2020) in AJB). She also used mutant gene lines grown in different soil nutrient conditions to study the effect of soil on phenotypic plasticity (Murren et al. (2020) in IJPS). The answers to these different questions, asked at different scales and delivered through different methodologies, help fill in puzzle pieces as to how root traits evolve in response to soil characteristics.

Different fields studying plant-environment interactions can inform each other on a theoretical or conceptual basis, and understanding the broader picture of how plants interact with their environment can also help researchers take a step back and appreciate a broader perspective on their system. "It's a huge challenge, but a worthy one, to think beyond one's study system and particular interaction (biotic or abiotic) to draw analogies with other responses," said Dr. Heath. "It can help us better see how plants leverage their genomes to simultaneously do many things---they are interacting with microbes, they are being consumed by herbivores, they are attempting to be pollinated (or not!)---all while optimizing their responses to myriad abiotic stressors (drought, salt, nutrient limitation)."

Beyond these conceptual dividends, there are real, practical benefits to following researchers in different fields studying other aspects of plant-environment interactions, such as learning new tools, study designs, and techniques. "As one obvious example, the sequencing revolution developed originally in the context of in-depth sequencing of individual genomes," said Dr. Heath, "but look how much we now know about plant-microbiome interactions as a result of our ability to sequence thousands of taxa at once!"

These special issues arose out the 2018 Green Life Science Symposium, an effort to gather diverse researchers together to discuss plant-environment interactions from different perspectives, and to share research from siloed fields. "This takes some willingness to talk across fields, since we tend to run into issues even speaking the same language---since we use the same words to mean different things and different words to mean the same thing!" said Dr. Heath. "But it's already happening." Indeed it is, as these articles show.


Applications in Plant Sciences (APPS) and the American Journal of Botany (AJB) are published by the Botanical Society of America (, in partnership with Wiley ( For further information, please contact the Botanical Society of America at or

The International Journal of Plant Sciences (IJPS) is published by the University of Chicago Press. For further information, please contact the editorial office at


Alameldin, H. L., S. Oh, A. P. Hernandez, and B. L. Montgomery. 2020. Nuclear-encoded sigma factor 6 (SIG6) is involved in the block of greening response in Arabidopsis thaliana. American Journal of Botany 107: 329-338.

Batstone, R. T., M. A. E. Peters, A. K. Simonsen, J. R. Stinchcombe, and M. E. Frederickson. 2020. Environmental variation impacts trait expression and selection in the legume-rhizobium symbiosis. American Journal of Botany 107: 195-208.

Baucom, R. S., K. D. Heath, and S. M. Chambers. 2020. Plant-environment interactions from the lens of plant stress, reproduction, and mutualisms. American Journal of Botany 107: 175-178.

Blake-Mahmud, J., and L. Struwe. 2020a. Death, sex, and sugars: variations in nonstructural carbohydrate concentrations in a sexually plastic tree. American Journal of Botany 107: 375-382.

Blake-Mahmud, J., and L. Struwe. 2020b. When the going gets tough, the tough turn female: injury and sex expression in a sex-changing tree. American Journal of Botany 107: 339-349.

Chambers, S. M. 2020. Novel methodologies to disentangle plant-environment interactions. Applications in Plant Sciences 8(2): e11324.

Chaney, L., and R. S. Baucom. 2020. The soil microbial community alters patterns of selection on flowering time and fitness-related traits in Ipomoea purpurea. American Journal of Botany 107: 186-194.

Christian, N., B. E. Sedio, X. Florez-Buitrago, L. A. Ramírez-Camejo, E. I. Rojas, L. C. Mejía, S. Palmedo, et al. 2020. Host affinity of endophytic fungi and the potential for reciprocal interactions involving host secondary chemistry. American Journal of Botany 107: 219-228. https ://

Cranston, B. M., B. F. Powers, and C. Macinnis-Ng. 2020. Inexpensive throughfall exclusion experiment for single large trees. Applications in Plant Sciences 8(2): e11325.

Forrester, N. J., and T.-L. Ashman. 2020. Autopolyploidy alters nodule-level interactions in the legume-rhizobium mutualism. American Journal of Botany 107: 179-185.

Gremer, J. R., A. Chiono, E. Suglia, M. Bontrager, L. Okafor, and J. Schmitt. 2020. Variation in the seasonal germination niche across an elevational gradient: the role of germination cueing in current and future climates. American Journal of Botany 107: 350-363.

Harbert, R. S., and A. A. Baryiames. 2020. cRacle: R tools for estimating climate from vegetation. Applications in Plant Sciences 8(2): e11322.

Heath, K. D., J. C. Podowski, S. Heniff, C. R. Klinger, P. V. Burke, D. J. Weese, W. H. Yang, and J. A. Lau. 2020. Light availability and rhizobium variation interactively mediate the outcomes of legume-rhizobium symbiosis. American Journal of Botany 107: 229-238.

Koptur, S., B. Barrios, I. Valdes, and M. Nusrat. 2020. A fishing expedition to discover the pollinators of several subtropical Apocynaceae. Applications in Plant Sciences 8(2): e11326.

Lynn, A., E. Piotter, E. Harrison, and C. Galen. 2020. Sexual and natural selection on pollen morphology in Taraxacum. American Journal of Botany 107: 364-374.

MacTavish, R., and J. T. Anderson. 2020. Resource availability alters fitness tradeoffs: implications for evolution in stressful environments. American Journal of Botany 107: 308-318.

McCarthy, D.M., and R. J. Mason-Gamer. 2020. Morphological variation in North American Tilia and its value in species delineation. International Journal of Plant Sciences 181: 175-195.

Murren, C. J., C. H. S. Alt, C. Kohler, and G. Sancho. 2020. Natural variation on whole-plant form in the wild is influenced by multivariate soil nutrient characteristics: natural selection acts on root traits. American Journal of Botany 107: 319-328.

Murren, C. J., C. Kohler, R. J. Balazs, R. Bassett, A. Beacham, E. A. Cousins, A. Frazier, et al. 2020. Gene type and mutation position influence responses in root traits across nutrient environments. International Journal of Plant Sciences 181: 210-223.

Ng, M., and S. Y. Smith. 2020. Evaluating stasis in Metasequoia (Cupressaceae): testing the relationship between leaf traits and climate. International Journal of Plant Sciences 181: 157-174.

Nihranz, C. T., W. S. Walker, S. J. Brown, M. C. Mescher, C. M. De Moraes, and A. G. Stephenson. 2020. Transgenerational impacts of herbivory and inbreeding on reproductive output in Solanum carolinense. American Journal of Botany 107: 286-297.

Nunes, C. I., J. L. García Massinia, I. H. Escapa, D. M. Guido, and K. Campbell. 2020. Conifer root nodules colonized by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in Jurassic geothermal settings from Patagonia, Argentina. International Journal of Plant Sciences 181: 196-209.

O'Brien, A. M., Z. H. Yu, D.-Y. Luo, J. Laurich, E. Passeport, and M. E. Frederickson. 2020. Resilience to multiple stressors in an aquatic plant and its microbiome. American Journal of Botany 107: 273-285.

Popovic, D., and D. B. Lowry. 2020. Contrasting environmental factors drive local adaptation at opposite ends of an environmental gradient in the yellow monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus). American Journal of Botany 107: 298-307.

Sanderson, B. J., S. Park, M. I. Jameel, J. C. Kraft, M. F. Thomashow, D. W. Schemske, and C. G. Oakley. 2020. Genetic and physiological mechanisms of freezing tolerance in locally adapted populations of a winter annual. American Journal of Botany 107: 250-261.

Smith, S. Y., and D. H. Chitwood. 2020. Plant-environment interactions: A sweeping perspective. International Journal of Plant Sciences 181: 155-156.

Smithers, B. V., M. F. Oldfather, M. J. Koontz, J. Bishop, C. Bishop, J. Nachlinger, and S. N. Sheth. 2020. Community turnover by composition and climatic affinity across scales in an alpine system. American Journal of Botany 107: 239-249.

Suni, S. S., B. Ainsworth, and R. Hopkins. 2020. Local adaptation mediates floral responses to water limitation in an annual wildflower. American Journal of Botany 107: 209-218.

Wei, N., Z. Du, A. Liston, and T.-L. Ashman. 2020. Genome duplication effects on functional traits and fitness are genetic context and species dependent: studies of synthetic polyploid Fragaria. American Journal of Botany 107: 262-272.

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