Plant Survival

There are a number of limiting factors that affect the distribution of plant species within a community

  • These include temperature, water and light availability, salinity and edaphic factors (soil pH and nutrient levels)


  • Plants can only survive within a narrow range of temperatures to which they are adapted
  • High temperatures will increase the rate of water loss by evaporation and may also denature metabolic enzymes
  • Low temperatures may cause plant sap to freeze (the expansion of frozen water in the xylem can cause trunks to split)
  • Certain species of woody plants (e.g. maple trees) synthesise antifreeze protein to prevent crystal formation in frozen cells

Water Availability

  • Water is needed for photosynthetic processes and is also necessary for maintaining cell turgor
  • Xerophytes (e.g. cacti) are plant species that are adapted to survive in dry and arid environments – such as deserts
  • Hydrophytes (e.g. rice) are plant species that are adapted to survive in frequently waterlogged soils 

Light Availability

  • Light is essential to the process of photosynthesis – whereby plants produce organic molecules
  • Low-growing plants will typically possess darker green leaves (more chlorophyll) in order to optimise their light conversion
  • Certain seaweeds (e.g. kelp) have pigments adapted to absorbing blue wavelengths (red does not easily penetrate water)


  • Most plants have a low soil salinity tolerance and can only exist within a narrow range of salinity
  • High salinity may be toxic to plants and makes the uptake of water via osmosis more difficult
  • Halophytes (e.g. mangroves) are plant species that are adapted to tolerate high levels of salinity

Ecological Limiting Factors – Plants

plant factors