Understanding plant-water relations and crop water use for agricultural systems is forming a significant body of work for the Centre. Such research is critical for improving ecosystem management and breeding crops with traits including improved water use efficiency, drought tolerance, and heat tolerance, to combat the environmental stresses caused by climate change.
Cooper and Messina provide an overview of methodologies and strategies that have been used to breed crops with improved levels of yield productivity for drought-prone environments in their article “Breeding crops for drought-affected environments and improved climate resilience”. The paper emphasises the importance of transdisciplinary tools and collaborations to develop resilient high-yield crops that are helping to ensure food security for the future. In their maize case study, they demonstrated a number of the canopy and root trait networks that contributed to improved yield performance for a wide range of agricultural drought environments.
One such tool is proposed in the article “Constant hydraulic supply enables optical monitoring of transpiration in a grass, herb, and conifer,” where Bourbia et al. outline a new method to monitor the water loss (transpiration) of grass, herbs, and conifers. The researchers used optical imaging to monitor the plants’ transpiration rates and found that the optical imaging technique can provide an accurate and non-invasive way to measure the transpiration of plants. This provides an entirely new way of characterising the performance of plants ranging in size from grass to tree. Two branches of application are emerging from this new technique; firstly the ability to phenotype whole plant water use in a diversity of crop plants, and secondly the capacity to monitor the water use and water stress in natural systems.
Continuing with the optical technology theme, the article “Hydraulic vulnerability segmentation in compound-leaved trees: Evidence from an embolism visualization technique” by Song et al., used an embolism visualisation technique to study the hydraulic system of the trees and identified different segments with varying levels of vulnerability to environmental stresses. The study provides evidence that compound-leaved trees have a complex hydraulic system with both vulnerable and more resistant segments. This study sheds light on how trees respond to environmental stresses and provides a potential explanation for mechanisms and adaptations of compound-leaved tree species.
In “Physiological trait networks enhance understanding of crop growth and water use in contrasting environments” Gleason et al. conduct a simulation to examine the relationships between crop traits in different climate scenarios. The researchers constructed networks of physiological traits for maize under different conditions and were able to identify key traits that were important for crop growth and water use efficiency in different environments. The study highlights the importance of considering multiple physiological traits when breeding crops and supports the findings of Cooper and Messina that trait networks can be used to improve our understanding or crop performance in drought-prone environments.
Together, research that is being undertaken across the Centre is building on a foundation of plant-water relations and crop water use knowledge. Utilising new and adapting established techniques to new species, and enhancing our ability to make predictions through modelling will contribute to a step change in plant resilience.
READ THE ARTICLES:
Cooper, M. and Messina, C.D. (2022). Breeding crops for drought-affected environments and improved climate resilience. The Plant Cell, 35(1), pp.162–186. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/plcell/koac321.
Bourbia, I., Lucani, C. and Brodribb, T.J. (2022). Constant hydraulic supply enables optical monitoring of transpiration in a grass, a herb, and a conifer. Journal of Experimental Botany, 73(16), pp.5625–5633. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/jxb/erac241.
Song, J., Trueba, S., Yin, X.-H., Cao, K.-F., Brodribb, T.J. and Hao, G.-Y. (2022). Hydraulic vulnerability segmentation in compound-leaved trees: Evidence from an embolism visualization technique. Plant Physiology, 189(1), pp.204–214. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/plphys/kiac034.
Gleason, S.M., Barnard, D.M., Green, T.R., Mackay, S., Wang, D.R., Ainsworth, E.A., Altenhofen, J., Brodribb, T.J., Cochard, H., Comas, L.H., Cooper, M., Creek, D., DeJonge, K.C., Delzon, S., Fritschi, F.B., Hammer, G., Hunter, C., Lombardozzi, D., Messina, C.D. and Ocheltree, T. (2022). Physiological trait networks enhance understanding of crop growth and water use in contrasting environments. Plant, Cell & Environment, 45(9), pp.2554–2572. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/pce.14382.