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Why is leaf shape so variable?

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-75
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Plant Developmental Biology
Issue numberSI1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


The genetic pathways which control leaf shape have been revealed through work in a range of model systems. We are now beginning to understand how plants produce leaves of different shapes. However, why leaves have different shapes is not so well-studies. Leaf shape is extremely variable between species. Shape also varies within species, within populations and as a plastic or developmentally programmed response, within individual plants, suggesting there is an adaptive role for leaf shape. Theoretical studies and modelling have suggested several roles that lead shape could play due to its effects on affect light capture, water balance and temperature regulation. Clear trends in leaf shape variation are seen along environmental clines but the few studies that have been done on the adaptive role of leaf shape have produced equivocal results. Selection on leaf shape is weak and variable though there is some support for adaptive effects of leaf dissection. Other important factors could be microclimate, correlations with phyllotaxy or vascular patterning, and biotic interactions. Cooperation between ecologists, physiologists, anatomists, geneticists is required to determine the interactions between these factors. This will be aided by the application of large-scale sequencing, and techniques such as PCA and QTL to dissect the genetics involved.

    Research areas

  • adaptation, evolution, genetics, leaf development, leaf shape, phyllotaxy

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