Lupins in natural ecosystems

Lupins are ecosystem engineers, able to colonise new volcanic soils and sand dunes1. This is achieved by their ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen symbiotically and to efficiently extract phosphorus from the soil. Many lupin species possess specialised cluster root structures that are extremely effective in mobilising phosphorus that is tightly sorbed to soil particles that is otherwise unavailable to other plant species.

Andean Lupinus species show a rate of speciation unparalleled in the plant kingdom making them a model genus for understanding speciation and adaptation2.  The morphology of lupin species ranges from small prostrate herbs to trees. Both annual and perennial species have found their niches in a vast array of ecological habitats across 100 degrees of latitude3. This wealth of adaptive traits is potentially useful in agriculture either as new lupin crop species or as a source of genes to broaden diversity in existing lupin crop species1,4.

1. Lambers H, Clements JC, Nelson MN (2013) How a phosphorus-acquisition strategy based on carboxylate exudation powers the success and agronomic potential of lupines (Lupinus, Fabaceae). American Journal of Botany 100:263-288

2. Hughes C, Eastwood R (2006) Island radiation on a continental scale: Exceptional rates of plant diversification after uplift of the Andes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103:10334-10339

3. Drummond CS, Eastwood RJ, Miotto STS, Hughes CE (2012) Multiple continental radiations and correlates of diversification in Lupinus (Leguminosae): Testing for key innovation with incomplete taxon sampling. Systematic Biology 61:443-460