The Importance of Ambient Temperature to Growth and the Induction of Flowering
Plant development is exquisitely sensitive to the environment. Light quantity, quality, and duration (photoperiod) have profound effects on vegetative morphology and flowering time. Recent studies have demonstrated that ambient temperature is a similarly potent stimulus influencing morphology and flowering. In Arabidopsis, ambient temperatures that are high, but not so high as to induce a heat stress response, confer morphological changes that resemble the shade avoidance syndrome. Similarly, these high but not stressful temperatures can accelerate flowering under short day conditions as effectively as exposure to long days. Photoperiodic flowering entails a series of external coincidences, in which environmental cycles of light and dark must coincide with an internal cycle in gene expression established by the endogenous circadian clock. It is evident that a similar model of external coincidence applies to the effects of elevated ambient temperature on both vegetative morphology and the vegetative to reproductive transition. Further study is imperative, because global warming is predicted to have major effects on the performance and distribution of wild species and strong adverse effects on crop yields. It is critical to understand temperature perception and response at a mechanistic level and to integrate this knowledge with our understanding of other environmental responses, including biotic and abiotic stresses, in order to improve crop production sufficiently to sustainably feed an expanding world population.