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Asked May 7, 2019
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Describe adaptations of plants to competition for light and pollinators



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Step 1

Adaptation is one of the main processes that explain the observed diversity of species. It is the evolutionary process whereby an organism becomes better able to live in its habitat or habitats. All adaptations help organisms survive in their ecological niches. The adaptive traits may be structural, behavioral or physiological.

Step 2

Adaptations of plants for light

Most leaves are sensitive to changes in light levels. Some plants adapt to different light levels by modifying their new growth to suit the new environment.

  • A plant may alter its leaf size and even color depending on the light intensity and duration. For example, the common philodendron houseplant tends to produce smaller leaves on longer vines in dim light and larger leaves on shorter vines in bright light. On the other hand, a ficus tree brought from direct sun into dim light will shed some of its old leaves and begin to produce slightly larger, thinner leaves. Many variegated plant will have more variegation in brighter light.
  • Plants also adopted different strategies to compete for light with those plants positioned around them. For example, the spring ephemerals that thrive on deciduous forest floors have leaves that emerge fully from rhizomes or bulbs. This enables them to complete their period of activity in sunlight before the forest trees that are overhead, produce leaves. Among plants in a given environment, there is constant competition to position themselves in such a way that they receive light sufficient for growth. 
  • Many rainforest trees use the strategy of vertical growth. Most of these plants grow straight and vertical, with few or no branches on the lower trunk.
  • Many saplings are able to remain in a relatively dormant state until a gap in the canopy opens up, perhaps due to a fallen tree. Once the sunlight is available, the sapling begins to to grow rapidly.
  • Interestingly, the leaves of many rainforest trees and plants are strikingly similar. Most of the leaves are oblong or oval, with a pronounced "drip-tip" think of the common houseplant philodendron, with its heart-shaped leaves ending in a long point. This shape allows excess water to run off for more efficient photosynthesis.
  • In rainforests, competition for light is so intense that the plants arrange their leaves at different angles. This helps them to avoid shading of their own leaves.
  • Lots of trees have very dark green needles which stimulate photosynthesis when temperature rise.
  • Another interesting group of plants is the epiphytes. They grow on the branches of the canopy, where the light is plentiful.
  • Young rainforest plants may have red leaves to give them protection from the sunlight while their internal organs for photosynthesis are still developing. They act as sunscreen by reflecting red light.
  • Leaves in the upper canopy are leathery and have a thick cuticle for protection. Some plants can actively alter the orientation of their leaves. By varying the turgor pressurein the leaf joints, plants can raise the leaves perpendicular to the sun for maximum exposure, or lower them to minimize sun stress.
  • Roses and locust trees have leaves composed of small leaflets, allowing sunlight to filter down to lower leaves.
  • Oak and maple have lobed or notched leaves, letting some light reach deep within the canopy.
  • Canada lily has leaves in whorls, allowing all of the leaves in the whorl to share the light.
Step 3

Adaptations of plants for pollinators

Pollination occurs when birds, bees, bats, butterflies, moths, other animals, water or the wind carries pollen from flower to flower or it is moved within flowers. Flowering plants have co-evolved with their pollinator partners over the million of years producing a fascinating and interesting diversity of floral strategies and pollinator adaptations.

  • Plants that use wind for cross-pollination, generally, have flowers that appear early in the spring, before or as the plant's leaves are emerging. This prevents the leaves from interfering with the dispersal of the pollen from the anthers and provides for the reception of the pollen on the stigma of the flowers. Pollens of the wind-pollinated plants are lightweight, smooth, and small.
  • The small percentage of plants that are pollinated by water are aquatic plants. These plants release their seeds directly into t...

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