Stomata are portals in plant leaves that control gas exchange for photosynthesis, a process fundamental to life on Earth. Gas fluxes and plant productivity depend on external factors such as light, water and CO2 availability and on the geometrical properties of the stoma pores. The link between stoma geometry and environmental factors has informed a wide range of scientific fields—from agriculture to climate science, where observed variations in stoma size and density are used to infer prehistoric atmospheric CO2 content. However, the physical mechanisms and design principles responsible for major trends in stomatal patterning are not well understood. Here, we use a combination of biomimetic experiments and theory to rationalize the observed changes in stoma geometry. We show that the observed correlations between stoma size and density are consistent with the hypothesis that plants favour efficient use of space and maximum control of dynamic gas conductivity, and that the capacity for gas exchange in plants has remained constant over at least the last 325 Myr. Our analysis provides a new measure to gauge the relative performance of species based on their stomatal characteristics.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3517566.
- Received July 6, 2016.
- Accepted October 7, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.