"The transport system that drives sap ascent from soil to leaves is extraordinary and controversial. More than a century ago, H. H. Dixon (1896) proposed that a pulling force was generated at the evaporative surface of leaves and that this force was transmitted downward through water columns under tension to lift water much like a rope under tension can lift a weight. The cohesion–tension theory (C–T theory), as it is known, supposes both adhesion of water to conduit walls and cohesion of water molecules to each other." (Tyree 2003: 923) Learn more about this functional adaptation.
Tyree, Melvin T. 2003. Plant hydraulics: The ascent of water. Nature. 423(6943): 923-923.
"Figure 5: Part of a stem of a robust grass, in cross section. Here mechanical strength of the stem is provided by the vascular bundles set in a matrix of thinner-walled cells, rather like rod reinforcements. Each vascular bundle has an outer sheath of fibres, forming a strong tube in which the two wide vessels can conduct water, and the strand of thin-walled, narrow cells (phloem) can transport sugar solutions with little risk of damage. Just to the inner side of the outer ring of smaller vessels the several layers of narrow cells eventually become thick-walled and provide additional strength in the form of a cylinder to the whole stem." (Cutler 2005:101) Learn more about this functional adaptation.
Cutler, DF. 2005. Design in plants. In: Collins, MW; Atherton, MA; Bryant, JA, editors. Nature and Design. Southampton, Boston: WIT Press. p 95-124
Based on studies in: South Africa (Estuarine) USA: New York, Long Island (Marine) USA: Texas (Lake or pond) USA: California (Marine) Malawi (River) Africa, Crocodile Creek, Lake Nyasa (Lake or pond) USA: California, Coachella Valley (Desert or dune) Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest) New Zealand: Otago, Dempster's Stream, Taieri River, 3 O'Clock catchment (River) New Zealand: Otago, Healy Stream, Taieri River, Kye Burn catchment (River) New Zealand: Otago, Sutton Stream, Taieri River, Sutton catchment (River)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
J. H. Day, The biology of Knysna estuary, South Africa. In: Estuaries, G. H. Lauff, Ed. (American Association for the Advancement of Science Publication 83, Washington, DC, 1967), pp. 397-407, from p. 406.
G. M. Woodwell, Toxic substances and ecological cycles, Sci. Am. 216(3):24-31, from pp. 26-27 (March 1967).
G. Fryer, The trophic interrelationships and ecology of some littoral communities of Lake Nyasa, Proc. London Zool. Soc. 132:153-229, from p. 219 (1959).
G. Fryer, 1957. The trophic interrelationships and ecology of some littoral communities of Lake Nyasa with special reference to the fishes, and a discussion of the evolution of a group of rock-frequenting Cichlidae. Proc. Zool. Soc. London 132:153-281, f
Townsend, CR, Thompson, RM, McIntosh, AR, Kilroy, C, Edwards, ED, Scarsbrook, MR. 1998. Disturbance, resource supply and food-web architecture in streams. Ecology Letters 1:200-209.
Thompson, RM and Townsend, CR. 1999. The effect of seasonal variation on the community structure and food-web attributes of two streams: implications for food-web science. Oikos 87: 75-88.
B. C. Patten and 40 co-authors, Total ecosystem model for a cove in Lake Texoma. In: Systems Analysis and Simulation in Ecology, B. C. Patten, Ed. (Academic Press, New York, 1975), 3:205-421, from pp. 236, 258, 268.
R. F. Johnston, Predation by short-eared owls on a Salicornia salt marsh, Wilson Bull. 68(2):91-102, from p. 99 (1956).
Polis GA (1991) Complex desert food webs: an empirical critique of food web theory. Am Nat 138:123155
Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
"Virtually all true mire vascular plants are perennial. This is a most effective way to ensure a large biomass, both below and above ground. In a nutrient-poor environment, a relatively large root biomass is required to obtain enough resources, and this cannot easily be built up within one season. Also, the large above-ground biomass which may be necessary for light capture in wooded mires can be built only by perennials." (Rydin and Jeglum 2006:50) Learn more about this functional adaptation.
Rydin, H.; Jeglum, J. K. 2006. The Biology of Peatlands. Oxford University Press. 343 p.
"There has been relatively little attempt to produce an artificial analogue to wood because wood is cheap, lightweight, tough, moldable, and easily shaped. However, when a hole is drilled in timber, it weakens the structure. The tree, however, drills no holes, even though it must disrupt the trunk's wood where a new branch pushes through. The fibers deform around a knothole, remaining continuous. George Jeronimidis of the Univ. of Reading Center for Biometrics is proposing to study how this can be used in fibrous composite materials." (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild) Learn more about this functional adaptation.
"Light harvesting in photosynthetic organisms is largely an efficient process. The first steps of the light phase of photosynthesis, capture of light quanta and primary charge separation processes are particularly well-tuned. In plants, these primary events that take place within the photosystems possess remarkable quantum efficiency, reaching 80% and 100% in photosystems II and I respectively. This paper presents a view on the organisation of a natural light harvesting machine—the antenna of the photosystem II of higher plants. It explains the key principles of biological antenna design and the strategies of adaptation to light environment which have evolved over millions of years. This article argues that the high efficiency of the light harvesting antenna and its control are intimately interconnected owing to the molecular design of the pigment–proteins it is built of, enabling high pigment density combined with the long excited-state lifetime. The protein plays the role of a programmed solvent, accommodating high quantities of pigments, while ensuring their orientations and interaction yields are optimised to efficiently transfer energy to the reaction centres, simultaneously avoiding energy losses due to concentration quenching. The minor group of pigments, the xanthophylls, play a central role in the regulation of light harvesting, defining the antenna efficiency and thus its abilities to simultaneously provide energy to photosystem II and protect itself from excess light damage. Xanthophyll hydrophobicity was found to be a key factor controlling chlorophyll efficiency by modulating pigment–pigment and pigment–protein interactions. Xanthophylls also endow the light harvesting antenna with the remarkable ability to memorise photosystem II light exposure—a light counter principle. Indeed, this type of light harvesting regulation displays hysteretic behaviour, typically observed during electromagnetic induction of ferromagnetic materials, the polarization of ferroelectric materials and the deformation of semi-elastic materials. The photosynthetic antenna is thus a magnificent example of how nature utilises the principles of physics to achieve its goal—extremely efficient, robust, autonomic and yet flexible light harvesting." (Ruban et al. 2011:1643)
"The outer rind that carries [pollen grains] is composed of a substance so stable and so resistant to rotting that it may survive for tens of thousands of years and still be recognisable." (Attenborough 1995:95) Learn more about this functional adaptation.
Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
"The chemical activation of CO2, that is, the splitting of its structure in a chemical reaction, is a major challenge in synthetic chemistry because of the very high thermodynamic stability of CO2, which requires an efficient energy source for its activation. However, the fact that biogenic carbon (i.e., biomass) originates from the fixation of CO2 implies that CO2 activation must be one of the oldest reactions in biological systems and have already occurred in prebiotic times.,  Interestingly, in current photosynthetic systems, this process relies on the formation of a carbamate as the first step of the cycle, which may also have been the case in prebiotic systems, as a number of cyanide-based, nitrogen-rich, conjugated organic molecules, such as nucleic acids, porphyrins, and phthalocyanines, existed before life began." (Goettmann et al. 2007:2717) Learn more about this functional adaptation.
Goettmann, Frédéric; Thomas, Arne; Antonietti, Markus. 2007. Metal-Free Activation of CO2 by Mesoporous Graphitic Carbon Nitride. Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 46(15): 2717-2720.