Anatomical Scaling

Plants are incredibly diverse in their anatomical structure and overall design. Even minor shifts in structure can translate to broad scale changes in plant photosynthetic and water use pathways. Since at least the late 1800s when German botanist, Gottlieb Haberlandt, published his nominal text Physiologische Pflanzenanatomie or Physiological Plant Anatomy, scientists have been fascinated by the intricacies of plant structural design and their implications for plant function. Enthusiasm for anatomical study briefly died down in mid 1920s until Katherine Esau brought plant functional anatomy into its first Renaissance in the mid 1950s. Her definitive text books of plant structure, Plant Anatomy (1953) and Anatomy of Seed Plants (1960) remain the gold standard for the study of plant functional anatomy.

This early literature, while incredibly detailed and rigorous, the descriptive nature of early anatomy was often perceived as dry and interest in anatomical structures drifted out of focus of the scientific community. Recent advancements in imagining technology, including three dimensional imaging via electron microscopy and micro ct, has begun to transition plant anatomy from a descriptive field to a highly informative quantitative field. This shift has initiated a second Renaissance in the study of plant functional anatomy. Yet, answers to many of the specific questions posed by Haberlandt and Esau regarding the relationships between structures and the functions of structural innovations have yet to be addressed. Answers to these basic questions could unlock fundamental relationships inherent to leaves and critical in whole plant function.

My work builds on established physiological first principles, aiming to understand how leaf and whole plant anatomical and morphological traits relate to complex physiology at larger scales. Towards this goal, I investigate relationships among traits at different biological scales, including anatomical scaling at the cell and tissue level, leaf economics, and thresholds for leaf hydraulic decline and mortality, and translate these findings to whole plant water relations. The integration of detailed models across scales enables identification of mechanisms driving inter- and intraspecific variation in plant water use and drought tolerance. A more quantitative mathematical characterization of key relationships between plant anatomy, functional traits and physiology at multiple scales will aid in the development of strategies to address pending ecological concerns such as global climate change, sustainable freshwater management, crop improvement and urban expansion
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