DOI: 10.7717/peerj.16368 ISSN: 2167-8359

An ecological transcriptome approach to capture the molecular and physiological mechanisms of mass flowering in Shorea curtisii

Ahmad Husaini Suhaimi, Masaki J. Kobayashi, Akiko Satake, Ching Ching Ng, Soon Leong Lee, Norwati Muhammad, Shinya Numata, Tatsuya Otani, Toshiaki Kondo, Naoki Tani, Suat Hui Yeoh
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Medicine
  • General Neuroscience

Climatic factors have commonly been attributed as the trigger of general flowering, a unique community-level mass flowering phenomenon involving most dipterocarp species that forms the foundation of Southeast Asian tropical rainforests. This intriguing flowering event is often succeeded by mast fruiting, which provides a temporary yet substantial burst of food resources for animals, particularly frugivores. However, the physiological mechanism that triggers general flowering, particularly in dipterocarp species, is not well understood largely due to its irregular and unpredictable occurrences in the tall and dense forests. To shed light on this mechanism, we employed ecological transcriptomic analyses on an RNA-seq dataset of a general flowering species, Shorea curtisii (Dipterocarpaceae), sequenced from leaves and buds collected at multiple vegetative and flowering phenological stages. We assembled 64,219 unigenes from the transcriptome of which 1,730 and 3,559 were differentially expressed in the leaf and the bud, respectively. Differentially expressed unigene clusters were found to be enriched with homologs of Arabidopsis thaliana genes associated with response to biotic and abiotic stresses, nutrient level, and hormonal treatments. When combined with rainfall data, our transcriptome data reveals that the trees were responding to a brief period of drought prior to the elevated expression of key floral promoters and followed by differential expression of unigenes that indicates physiological changes associated with the transition from vegetative to reproductive stages. Our study is timely for a representative general flowering dipterocarp species that occurs in forests that are under the constant threat of deforestation and climate change as it pinpoints important climate sensitive and flowering-related homologs and offers a glimpse into the cascade of gene expression before and after the onset of floral initiation.

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