Physiological ecology (plant)
Dawson, T. E. Department of Ecology and Systematics, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
Last reviewed:May 2019
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- Methods and measurements
- Energy relations
- Water relations
- Mineral nutrition
- Carbon relations
- Ecosystem science
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
The branch of plant science that seeks physiological (mechanistic) explanations for ecological observations. Physiological ecology is the study of biophysical, biochemical, and physiological processes used by organisms to cope with factors of their physical environment. With regard to the physiological ecology of plants, emphasis is placed on understanding how plants cope with environmental variation at the physiological level, and on the influence of resource limitations on growth, metabolism, and reproduction of individuals within and among plant populations, along environmental gradients, and across different communities and ecosystems (Fig. 1). The responses of plants to natural, controlled, or manipulated conditions above and below ground provide a basis for understanding how the features of plants enable their survival, persistence, and spread. Information gathered is often used to identify the physiological and morphological features of a plant that permit adaptation to different sets of environmental conditions. The principal life forms studied are herbs, forbs, grasses, shrubs, trees, and nonvascular plants (such as mosses and lichens). Key life-cycle processes include the acquisition, transport, and loss of mass [carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O)], energy (heat and light), and mineral nutrients; the exchange of gases and compounds that influence photosynthesis (CO2 and H2O), transpiration (H2O), and respiration [CO2 and oxygen (O2)]; and the allocation of fixed energy in the form of carbohydrates (CHO) necessary for life-sustaining activities. Photosynthesis and respiration, in particular, involve a suite of complex physical and chemical reactions within the organelles, cells, tissues, and organs of a plant. Reaction rates are influenced by an array of environmental characteristics, including temperature, as well as water, nutrient, and light availability. See also: Adaptation (biology); Ecology; Ecosystem; Photosynthesis; Plant; Plant growth; Plant metabolism; Plant physiology; Plant reproduction; Plant respiration
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