The distinctive form and function of giant cactus | Desert Botanical Garden


Giant cactus are among the most charismatic and iconic plant life forms on the planet, but many giant cactus species are threatened by the effects of climate change. At the Dryland Plant Ecophysiology Lab (DPEL) the staff studies the distinctive physiological features of giant cactus to better understand how they cope with long-term exposure to drought and heatwaves. A wide range of investigative tools are used to evaluate how these desert sentinels function and survive under stressful climate conditions.

Selected recent publications:

Hultine KR, Cushman JC, Williams DG (2019) New perspectives in Crassulacean acid metabolism biology. (2019) Journal of Experimental Botany: 70: 6489-6493 

Hultine KR, Dettman DL, English NB, Williams DG. (2019) Giant cacti: isotope recorders of climate variation in warm deserts of the Americas. Journal of Experimental Botany: 70: 6509-6519

Huber J, Dettman DL, Williams DG, Hultine KR. (2018) Gas exchange characteristics of giant cacti species varying in stem morphology and life history strategy. American Journal of Botany. 105: 1688-1702

Hultine KR, Majure LC, Nixon VS, Arias S, Búrquez A, Goettsch B, Puente-Martinez R, Zavala-Hurtado A. (2016) The role of botanical gardens in the conservation of Cactaceae. Bioscience. 66: 1057-1065

Recent funding sources:

  • Binational Consortium for Regional Scientific Development and Innovation, funded by the National Council for Science and Technology, Mexico (Conacyt), and the University of Arizona’s Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice
  • National Science Foundation. Integrative Organismal Systems program (Grant # 1818560)

Collaborating institutions:

University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University, University of Wyoming, Central Queensland University (Australia), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Morton Arboretum

Photo: Senita cactus under the stars in the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve near Cono Rojo (Photo credit: Abby Hoffman).

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