Managing water scarcity in European and Chinese cropping systems

In “The Vadose Zone Journal”

Authors: D. Tzohar, M. Moshelion, A. Ben-Gal


Plant root systems are exposed to spatial and temporal heterogeneity regarding water availability. In the long-term, compensation, increased uptake by roots in areas with favorable conditions in response to decreased uptake in areas under stress, is driven by root growth and distribution. In the short-term (hours–days), compensative processes are less understood. We hypothesized hydraulic compensation where local lowered water availability is accompanied by increased uptake from areas where water remains available. Our objective was to quantify instantaneous hydraulic root uptake under conditions of differential water availability. Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) plants were grown in split-root weighing-drainage lysimeters in which each half of the roots could alternatively be exposed to short-term conditions of salinity. Uptake was quantified from each of the two root zone compartments. One-sided exposure to salinity immediately led to less uptake from the salt-affected compartment and increased uptake from the nontreated compartment. Compensation occurred at salinity, caused by NaCl solution of 4 dS m−1, that did not decrease uptake in plants with entire root systems exposed. At higher salinity, 6.44 dS m−1, transpiration decreased by ∼50% when the total root system was exposed. When only half of the roots were exposed, total uptake was maintained at levels of nonstressed plants with as much as 85% occurring from the nontreated compartment. The extent of compensation was not absolute and apparently a function of salinity, atmospheric demand, and duration of exposure. As long as there is no hydraulic restriction in other areas, temporary reduction in water availability in some parts of a tomato’s root zone will not affect plant-scale transpiration.


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