A salty tale of life on the road

Dipsacus fullonum In the UK, when it snows we panic. Over two mil­lion tonnes of salt are spread onto the UK roads each year. At the same time, road­side verges are rap­idly becom­ing life-giving arter­ies in the coun­tryside, link­ing hab­it­ats and act­ing as vital cor­ridors for wild­life to thrive on. They also rep­res­ent a rem­nant of our nat­ive grass­land which has suffered cata­strophic losses over the last cen­tury (Plantlife Read Verge Campaign). Apart from a few sea­side spe­cies, wild flowers don’t like salt — not even a tea­spoon­ful, let alone two mil­lion tonnes a year.

Teasels are an import­ant spe­cies for wild­life, vis­ited by bees when they are in flower and birds when car­ry­ing seed. The brown seeds from the spiny flower-head of the teasel is a favour­ite food of gold­finches in winter. And teasels don’t like salt. Writing in AoB PLANTS, Beaton and Dudley exam­ine the salt tol­er­ance observed in road­side pop­u­la­tions of the com­mon teasel (Dipsacus ful­lonum L. subsp. sylvestris) and dis­cuss how this plant responds to new and chal­len­ging environments.

Beaton, L.L., and Dudley, S.A. (2013) Tolerance of road­side and old­field pop­u­la­tions of Dipsacus ful­lonum subsp. sylvestris (Dipsacaceae) to salt and low osmotic poten­tials dur­ing ger­min­a­tion. AoB Plants. 5: plt001 doi: 10.1093/aobpla/plt001
Plants inhab­it­ing degraded hab­it­ats must con­tend with stress­ful envir­on­ments. However, their abil­ity to adapt may be con­strained by avail­able genetic vari­ation and genetic cor­rel­a­tions between traits. Here, we exam­ine the cor­rel­a­tion between salt and drought tol­er­ance in ger­min­at­ing seeds from con­trast­ing pop­u­la­tions of com­mon teasel (Dipsacus ful­lonum subsp. sylvestris) grow­ing on road­sides that exper­i­ence high salin­ity due to de-icing salts, or grow­ing in an old field site, remote from road­sides and free of salin­ity stress. We examined the con­tri­bu­tion of drought and salin­ity tol­er­ance to the tol­er­ance of road­side con­di­tions in seed­lings from five mater­nal fam­il­ies from three road­side and three old field pop­u­la­tions. Germination and early growth were com­pared under high salin­ity, low water poten­tial set at −0.5 MPa with solu­tions of poly­ethyl­ene glycol 8000, sodium chlor­ide or ver­mi­culite wet­ted to −0.5 MPa with dis­tilled water. Root length and the emer­gence of coty­le­dons (where appro­pri­ate) were used as a meas­ure of per­form­ance. Maternal fam­il­ies from road­side pop­u­la­tions dis­played greater tol­er­ance of both high salin­ity and drought than fam­il­ies from old field pop­u­la­tions. However, no mater­nal fam­ily pos­sessed tol­er­ance to both drought and salin­ity. Salt and drought tol­er­ance dur­ing ger­min­a­tion were not cor­rel­ated, indic­at­ing that they are sep­ar­ate traits in this species.



Ann Bot is a gestalt entity who works in the office for the Annals of Botany.

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