Responses of field-grown maize to different soil types, water regimes, and contrasting vapor pressure deficit
Abstract. Drought is a serious constraint to crop growth and production of important staple crops such as maize. Improved understanding of the responses of crops to drought can be incorporated into cropping system models to support crop breeding, varietal selection and management decisions for minimizing negative impacts. We investigate the impacts of different soil types (stony and silty) and water regimes (irrigated and rainfed) on hydraulic linkages between soil and plant, as well as root: shoot growth characteristics. Our analysis is based on a comprehensive dataset measured along the soil-plant-atmosphere pathway at field scale in two growing seasons (2017, 2018) with contrasting climatic conditions (low and high VPD). Roots were observed mostly in the topsoil (10–20 cm) of the stony soil while more roots were found in the subsoil (60–80 cm) of the silty soil. The difference in root length was pronounced at silking and harvest between the soil types. Total root length was 2.5–6 times higher in the silty soil compared to the stony soil with the same water treatment. At silking time, the ratios of root length to shoot biomass in the rainfed plot of the silty soil (F2P2) were 3 times higher than those in the irrigated silty soil (F2P3) while the ratio was similar for two water treatments in the stony soil. With the same water treatment, the ratios of root length to shoot biomass of silty soil was higher than stony soil. The observed minimum leaf water potential (ψleaf) varied from around -1.5 MPa in the rainfed plot in 2017 to around -2.5 MPa in the same plot of the stony soil in 2018. In the rainfed plot, the mimimum ψleaf in the stony soil was lower than in silty soil from -2 to -1.5 MPa in 2017, respectively while these were from -2.5 to -2 MPa in 2018, respectively. Leaf water potential, water potential gradients from soil to plant roots, plant hydraulic conductance (Ksoil_plant), stomatal conductance, transpiration, and photosynthesis were considerably modulated by the soil water content and the conductivity of the rhizosphere. When the stony soil and silt soil are compared, the higher 'stress' due to the lower water availability in the stony soil resulted in less roots with a higher root tissue conductance in the soil with more stress. When comparing the rainfed with the irrigated plot in the silty soil, the higher stress in the rainfed soil resulted in more roots with a lower root tissue conductance in the treatment with more stress. This illustrates that the 'response' to stress can be completely opposite depending on conditions or treatments that lead to the differences in stress that are compared. To respond to water deficit, maize had higher water uptake rate per unit root length and higher root segment conductance in the stony soil than in the silty soil, while the crop reduced transpired water via reduced aboveground plant size. Future improvements of soil-crop models in simulating gas exchange and crop growth should further emphasize the role of soil textures on stomatal function, dynamic root growth, and plant hydraulic system together with aboveground leaf area adjustments.
Status: open (until 17 Mar 2024)
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