In this chapter we introduce stress as an ever-present condition of plant life. The various strategies used by plants to cope with fluctuating environmental conditions are defined. An understanding of molecular stress physiology is facilitated by differentiating the responses of an individual (acclimation) from evolutionary processes at the population and species levels (adaptation). Stress tolerance and avoidance reactions of a plant involve a number of common features independent of the type of stress: sensing of environmental or internal changes, long-distance transfer of information between organs and tissues, signal transduction cascades at the cellular level, transcriptional control and the occurrence of oxidative stress. The essential role of model systems in elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying these processes is explained. Another integral part of stress responses is the modulation of growth, that is, a change in resource allocation in favour of stress resistance. A second major strategy, besides stress resistance, that enables a plant to survive and reproduce in a particular environment is escape from unfavourable conditions. Escape is possible through the anticipation of seasonal changes and the timing of key developmental transitions, such as germination, in response to environmental factors. Anticipation is made possible by the biological clock and photoperiodism. Both are molecularly understood quite well now and are discussed here alongside the winter memory of plants and possible trans-generational stress memory phenomena.
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