Growth & Development Taxonomy & Evolution

Arabidopsis halleri: a model system for studying population differentiation and local adaptation

Whilst studies on Arabidopsis thaliana have generally been highly molecular and/or genetic in nature, most studies using A. halleri have addressed adaptation and variation in adaptive traits in the species’ natural habitat.

One of the most fascinating observations of plants in natural habitats is the spatial co-variation that exists between plant functional traits and natural environments. In a new review published in AoBP, Honjo & Kudoh introduce a small perennial clonal herb, Arabidopsis halleri as a model system to study local adaptation along environmental gradients. The perennial and evergreen life history of A. halleri contrasts with the annual life history of Arabidopsis thaliana. Leaves can be produced all year round even in low temperatures during winter and it can also photosynthesize throughout the year. The evergreen and perennial habits benefit the study of diverse stress under natural conditions. They allow tissue samples to be collected across the year and also allow comparisons between years using the same individuals.

Arabidopsis halleri subsp. gemmifera shows population differentiation between contrasting altitudinal habitats at Mt. Ibuki, central Honshu, Japan. Image credit: Honjo & Kudoh.

In their review, the authors compare A. halleri to other species in the Arabidopsis genus, including the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. Whilst studies on A. thaliana have generally been highly molecular and/or genetic in nature, most studies using A. halleri have addressed adaptation and variation in adaptive traits in the species’ natural habitat, or as the authors refer to it “in natura“. Many have focussed on altitudinal adaptation in diverse functional traits, including ultraviolet-B tolerance and anti-herbivore defences, with others focussing on population differentiation in response to heavy metal contamination in soils, a trait for which this species is well known. The authors conclude by stating that A. halleri provides us with new opportunities to study population differentiation and local adaptation, and relate these to the genetic systems underlying target functional traits. 

This review was published as part of the AoBP Special Issue entitled The Ecology and Genetics of Population Differentiation in Plants.

Researcher highlight

Mie N. Honjo conducted her PhD project in microbial ecology at Kyoto University, Japan. Mie did her first postdoc at Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto and currently holds a postdoc position with Professor Hiroshi Kudoh at the Center for Ecological Research, Kyoto University. 

Mie is a plant and viral ecologist interested in studying seasonality and diversity of plant-virus interaction in natural environments. She is also interested in the application of new molecular techniques to field biology to investigate interactions between host and other organisms in terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Hiroshi Kudoh obtained his PhD in botany at Kyoto University. He did his post-doc in wetland ecology at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, MD, U.S.A., and then got his position in plant ecology at Tokyo Metropolitan University, Japan. He moved to Kobe University as an associate professor, and then to a current position, a professor in molecular ecology at the Center for Ecological Research at Kyoto University.

Hiroshi is a plant ecologist interested in studying phenology, local adaptation, phenotypic plasticity and plant-animal interactions at the level of gene function. He set up long-term molecular phenology sites in the natural populations of Arabidopsis halleri subsp. gemmifera to conduct ‘In natura’ studies for understanding ecological functions of genes.