Phyllotaxis: is the golden angle optimal for light capture?

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Phyllotactic patterns are some of the most conspicuous in nature. To create these patterns plants must control the divergence angle between the appearance of successive organs, sometimes to within a fraction of a degree. The most common angle is the Fibonacci or golden angle, and its prevalence has led to the hypothesis that it has been selected by evolution as optimal for plants with respect to some fitness benefits, such as light capture.We explore arguments for and against this idea with computer models. We have used both idealized and scanned leaves from Arabidopsis thaliana and Cardamine hirsuta to measure the overlapping leaf area of simulated plants after varying parameters such as leaf shape, incident light angles, and other leaf traits.We find that other angles generated by Fibonacci-like series found in nature are equally optimal for light capture, and therefore should be under similar evolutionary pressure.Our findings suggest that the iterative mechanism for organ positioning itself is a more likely target for evolutionary pressure, rather than a specific divergence angle, and our model demonstrates that the heteroblastic progression of leaf shape in A. thaliana can provide a potential fitness benefit via light capture.