Environmental Stimuli & Stress: Plant Adaptations & Responses

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  • 0:00 Abiotic Environmental Stress
  • 0:30 Flooding and Drought
  • 2:41 Heat and Cold
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Plants get stressed out about a lot of stuff, like floods, droughts, high heat, and cold. And they have ways in which they deal with these kinds of stress. This lesson gives some examples of how this occurs.

Abiotic Environmental Stress

Environmental stressors, like noise pollution, air pollution, and poor quality water, can cause everything from breakouts on your face to insomnia or even cancer. Basically, environmental stress can change how you look or act.

Abiotic, or nonliving, environmental stresses, like flooding, drought, or extreme temperatures, can also influence plants in terms of how they look or how they respond to their environment. Let's see how.

Flooding and Drought

It kind of goes without saying that a long drought will kill a plant, much like you can't survive forever without water. A plant can stave off the effects of drought for as long as possible by using a couple of tricks up its leaves. Yes, yes, pun fully intended. Thank you for clapping.

The first trick is the closure of leaf stomata. Stomata are pores found in leaves that are used in gas exchange. The closure of plant stomata reduces the rate of transpiration, the movement of water throughout a plant and into the atmosphere. Basically, it's a word for plant sweating. The closure of these pores would be like the closure of pores on your skin. When the stomata close, the plant stops sweating and can conserve water.

Another trick some plants use during drought is to roll their leaves into a tube-like shape when they wilt. Why does this happen? Well, rolling up the leaves reduces surface area and thus exposes the plant to a lot less dry air and wind. Actually, some plants go even further and just shed their leaves entirely to save themselves.

On the opposite side of the spectrum to drought is flooding. Although a plant needs water to survive, too much of something can be a bad thing. This is because a flood can drown a plant like it can drown you. What does drowning really mean, though? Drowning is death from suffocation, as liquid prevents the absorption of life-giving oxygen.

Plants don't have lungs like we do, but they have roots that rely on air spaces in the soil to provide them with oxygen. If these air spaces are flooded, the plant loses oxygen, and it, too, suffocates.

In cases where plants are deprived of oxygen in this manner, they produce something known as ethylene, which causes the programmed death of certain cells in the cortex, the outer layer, of the root. This causes air tubes to form, ones that act like snorkels to provide the plant's roots with oxygen.

Heat and Cold

And if you've ever used snorkels yourself, you likely did so in a very hot area, like on a tropical island or something. Those places can be shockingly hot and not just to you.

Heat stress is a serious threat to plants because high heat can denature its enzymes. Enzymes are protein molecules that help speed up biochemical reactions. The word 'denature' really just means that these enzymes will be turned into non-functional structures that can no longer serve their purpose.

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