298. Heslop-Harrison JS. 2012. Traits with ecological functions. Annals of Botany, 110 (1), 139-140.
URL http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcs139 (free access)
Individual plant species thrive in specific environments, some growing well across a wide area, others being restricted to survival in very narrow ecological niches. Within a niche, a species must compete for space, light and other resources with the same and other species. Many decades of work on crops has advanced our understanding of characteristics related to crop production and agronomy, with many studies involving the partitioning of components to the smallest part that can be measured, extensive experimental studies in both controlled and natural environments, linkage mapping or association genetics allowing the underlying genes or quantitative trait loci (QTLs) to be identified, and modelling of the effects of the genes on plant development. Now, with extensive segregating populations for most agricultural and many model species, high-throughput DNA sequencing is accelerating discovery of gene alleles related to functional traits, while DNA-based markers have increasing application in breeding programmes. This article reviews a Highlight section of Annals of Botany showing the novel and rapid advances now being made in the identification and characterization of functional traits in ecology, identifying genes that enhance plant adaptation to ecological niches within ecosystems. There are many contrasts with crop studies that make this work particularly challenging, particularly because of the enormous biodiversity within a natural ecosystem (both within individual species and in the number of interacting species) and the variation in the environment.