Drought-induced changes in xylem pH, ionic composition, and ABA concentration act as early signals in field-grown maize (Zea mays L

Author(s): Bahrun A, Jensen CR, Asch F, Mogensen VO


Early signals potentially regulating leaf growth and stomatal aperture in field-grown maize (Zea mays L.) subjected to drought were investigated. Plants grown in a field lysimeter on two soil types were subjected to progressive drought during vegetative growth. Leaf ABA content, water status, extension rate, conductance, photosynthesis, nitrogen content, and xylem sap composition were measured daily. Maize responded similarly to progressive drought on both soil types. Effects on loam were less pronounced than on sand. Relative to fully-watered controls, xylem pH increased by about 0.2 units one day after withholding irrigation (DAWI) and conductivity decreased by about 0.25 mS cm(-1) 1-3 DAWI. Xylem nitrate, ammonium, and phosphate concentrations decreased by about 50% at 1-5 DAWI and potassium concentration decreased by about 50% at 7-8 DAWI. Xylem ABA concentration consistently increased by 45-70 pmol ml(-1) at 7 DAWI. Leaf extension rate decreased 5 DAWI, after the changes in xylem chemical composition had occurred. Leaf nitrogen significantly decreased 8-16 DAWI in droughted plants. Midday leaf water potential and photosynthesis were significantly decreased in droughted plants late in the drying period. Xylem nitrate concentration was the only ionic xylem sap component significantly correlated to increasing soil moisture deficit and decreasing leaf nitrogen concentration. Predawn leaf ABA content in droughted plants increased by 100-200 ng g(-1) dry weight at 7 DAWI coinciding with a decrease in stomatal conductance before any significant decrease in midday leaf water potential was observed. Based on the observed sequence, a chain of signal events is suggested eventually leading to stomatal closure and leaf surface reduction through interactive effects of reduced nitrogen supply and plant growth regulators under drought.

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