Environmental stresses frequently decrease plant fertility. In Arabidopsis, the effect of salt stress on reproduction was examined using plants grown in hydroponic medium. Salt stress inhibited microsporogenesis and stamen filament elongation. Because plants grown in hydroponic media can be rapidly and transiently stressed, the minimum inductive treatment to cause ovule abortion could be determined. Nearly 90% of the ovules aborted when roots were incubated for 12 h in a hydroponic medium supplemented with 200 m m NaCl. The anatomical effects of salt stress on maternal organs were distinct from those in the gametophyte. A fraction of cells in the chalaza and integuments underwent DNA fragmentation and programmed cell death. While three-fourths of the gametophytes aborted prior to fertilization, DNA fragmentation was not detected in these cells. Those gametophytes that survived were fertilized and formed embryos. However, very few of these developing embryos formed seeds; most senesced during seed development. Thus, during seed formation, there were multiple points where stress could prematurely terminate plant reproduction. These decreases in fecundity are discussed with respect to the hypothesis of serial adjustment of maternal investment.
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