Lead Chief Investigator: Tim Brodribb, University of Tasmania


Water is the most basic requirement of land plants. Evolution of plant–water relations has shaped plants over the last 400 million years and continues to be a primary selective force.  

Our aim is to create an integrated view of function and evolution in plant–water relations, which will include the processes, traits and gene networks underlying how plants acquire water, transport water, lose water, and control water content/cell turgor. 

Specifically, we aim to: 

  • connect key water-relations traits with plant fitness and survival 
  • link specific water relations phenotypes to genetic architecture and whole-plant function 
  • enable the pathway to using water relations properties in a predictive way 
  • provide the means by which water relations traits may be used as a tool in the future of crop development. 

In the long term, we anticipate the discovery of new connections to gene networks, emerging from a multi-scale approach in diverse systems. 

Our approach

From research on the basic mechanisms of water relations physiology and their impact on whole-plant behaviour/fitness, to the macroevolution of water relations strategy in early land plants, this project is a broad collaboration, drawing from several projects running across the Centre, including:  

  • Mechanisms related to water and branching: Integration of physiology and development of traits underpinning plant success 
  • Mechanisms related to turgor and translation: Evolution and function of molecular networks that control potential and water allocation in plant growth 
  • Root symbiosis hydraulics: Domestication underground 
  • Trait evolution of water relations:  
  • Evolution of eucalyptus clade to heat and water storage  
  • Adaptations to heat and drought in the Andropogoneae  
  • Population-scale evolution in Senecio: Predicting adaptive trajectories in natural systems 
  • Macroevolution in bryophyte water relations: Land plant genetic network innovations 
  • Refining or revising modelling to capture water as a core input.  

Our partner at Harvard University will be involved in phloem trait characterisation and water relations evolution.