Flooding Stress in Plants


As sessile organisms, plants cannot run away from unfavourable growth conditions. In order to survive stress conditions, for example flooding stress, they have evolved multiple adaptational mechanisms. Flooding stress restricts gas diffusion in and out of the plant cells, and subsequently leads to oxygen deficiency inside the plants. Plants can react to flooding with two strategies. On one hand, they can avoid the occurrence of oxygen deficiency inside by anatomical and morphological adaptations. These adaptations are mainly mediated by the gaseous plant hormone ethylene. On the other hand, they can also survive with oxygen deficiency, at least for some time. This adaptation includes the rearrangement of primary metabolism, for example through induction of fermentation. This transcriptional rearrangement is mediated by a set of transcription factors whose protein abundance directly depends on the oxygen concentration inside the plant cells.

Key Concepts

  • Flooding reduces gas diffusion and thus oxygen and carbon dioxide availability within plant tissues.
  • Several plant species have adapted to flooding conditions and can survive and even grow under water.
  • One strategy to survive flooding is the avoidance of oxygen deficiency within plant tissues by morphological changes.
  • Morphological changes include aerenchyma formation, adventitious roots, leaf hyponasty and shoot elongation.
  • Morphological changes are largely mediated by the gaseous plant hormone ethylene that naturally accumulates in plant parts under water.
  • A second strategy to survive flooding is the adaptation to oxygen deficiency by metabolic rearrangements.
  • Metabolic rearrangements include induction of fermentation, glycolysis and starch degradation.
  • Metabolic rearrangements are partially mediated by a group of oxygen‐labile transcription factors that accumulate under oxygen deficiency.

Keywords: flooding; hypoxia; submergence; waterlogging; glycolysis; aerenchyma; elongation

Figure 1. Overview of plant responses to flooding, and their regulation. Not all modifications can be observed in all plant species. Grey boxes are partially unknown or unclear.
Figure 2. Morphological and anatomical changes under submergence using the example of Nasturtium officinale. (a) Internode elongation during submergence (subm, arrow) in comparison to aerated control (ctr); (b) Adventitious root formation during submergence (subm, arrow); (c) Schizogenous aerenchyma formation in roots; arrows point to cortical gas spaces.
Figure 3. Simplified overview of plant glycolysis and respiration. Under hypoxia, mitochondrial metabolic pathways (TCA cycle, respiratory chain; shaded with grey) are inhibited by lack of oxygen as the end electron acceptor. Cytoplasmic glycolysis is still ongoing if NADH is reoxidised by lactic acid or ethanolic fermentation. LDH, lactate dehydrogenase; PDC, pyruvate decarboxylase; ADH, alcohol dehydrogenase.
Figure 4. Regulation of the transcriptional response to hypoxia. Under normoxia, groupVII ERF transcription factors are unstable owing to degradation through the N‐end rule pathway, as described in the text. Under hypoxia, they accumulate and act as transcriptional activators of hypoxia‐responsive genes (HRGs), for example of genes encoding fermentative enzymes. Photo courtesy of Philipp Gasch.


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Further Reading

Bailey‐Serres J, Fukao T, Ronald P, et al. (2010) Submergence tolerant rice: SUB1's journey from landrace to modern cultivar. Rice 3: 138–147.

Bailey‐Serres J, Fukao T, Gibbs DJ, et al. (2012) Making sense of low oxygen sensing. Trends in Plant Science 17: 129–138.

van Dongen JT and Licausi F (2014) Low‐Oxygen Stress in Plants, Plant Cell Monographs 21. Wien: Springer‐Verlag.

Sasidharan R, Hartman S, Liu Z, et al. (2018) Signal dynamics and interactions during flooding stress. Plant Physiology 176: 1106–1117.

Voesenek LACJ, Pierik R and Sasidharan R (2015) Plant life without ethylene. Trends in Plant Science 20: 783–786.

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Mustroph, Angelika(Aug 2018) Flooding Stress in Plants. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001317.pub3]