, Volume 179, Issue 4, pp 466-474

Non-hydraulic signals from maize roots in drying soil: inhibition of leaf elongation but not stomatal conductance

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Abstract

Conditions of soil drying and plant growth that lead to non-hydraulic inhibition of leaf elongation and stomatal conductance in maize (Zea mays L.) were investigated using plants grown with their root systems divided between two containers. The soil in one container was allowed to dry while the other container was kept well-watered. Soil drying resulted in a maximum 35% inhibition of leaf elongation rate which occurred during the light hours, with no measurable decline in leaf water potential (ψw). Leaf area was 15% less than in control plants after 18 d of soil drying. The inhibition of elongation was observed only when the soil ψw declined to below that of the leaves and, thus, the drying soil no longer contributed to transpiration. However, midday root ψw in the dry container (-0.29 MPa) remained much higher than that of the surrounding soil (-1.0 MPa) after 15 d of drying, indicating that the roots in drying soil were rehydrated in the dark.

To prove that the inhibition of leaf elongation was not caused by undetectable changes in leaf water status as a result of loss of half the watergathering capacity, one-half of the root system of control plants was excised. This treatment had no effect on leaf elongation or stomatal conductance. The inhibition of leaf elongation was also not explained by reductions in nutrient supply.

Soil drying had no effect on stomatal conductance despite variations in the rate or extent of soild drying, light, humidity or nutrition. The results indicate that non-hydraulic inhibition of leaf elongation may act to conserve water as the soil dries before the occurrence of shoot water deficits.

Contribution from the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station, Journal Series No. 10881