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Compensating effect of fulvic acid and super-absorbent polymer on leaf gas exchange and water use efficiency of maize under moderate water deficit conditions

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A field-based pot experiment with maize plants was conducted to examine the effect of combined fulvic acid (FA) and super-absorbent polymer (SAP) on leaf gas exchange, water use efficiency, and grain yield under soil water deficit. SAP (45 kg hm−2) was applied to the topsoil at sowing. Plants were well-watered (80% field capacity), but subjected to water deficit (50% field capacity) from tassel stage to grain-fill. FA solution (2 g L−1) was sprayed onto plant leaves at 2 and 9 days after imposing water deficit. Under water deficit, SAP and FA application did not affect evapotranspiration, but increased leaf abscisic acid and decreased leaf transpiration rate with a little change in photosynthesis, thus improving instantaneous water use efficiency. Applying SAP and FA under water deficit also increased grain yield by 19% and grain water use efficiency by 24%, largely attributed to an increase in kernel number. In contrast, under well-watered condition the two chemicals increased stomatal conductance, leaf transpiration, photosynthesis and chlorophyll content, but did not change kernel number and were relatively less effective in respect to water use efficiency compared to water-stressed condition. This study showed that application of foliar FA and soil SAP had little effect on evapotranspiration but maintained high photosynthesis and kernel number, and improved water use efficiency under soil water deficit.

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P n :

Photosynthesis rate

G s :

Stomatal conductance

T r :

Transpiration rate



WUEi :

Instantaneous water use efficiency at leaf level

WUEb :

Water use efficiency at above-ground biomass level

WUEg :

Water use efficiency at grain yield level


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This research was supported by the earmarked fund for National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 51379096) and National International Cooperation Program of China (No. 2014DFA71080); and Science and Technology Promotion Project, Ministry of Water Resources, China (No. TG1403).

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Correspondence to Pinfang Li or Jian Yu.

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Yang, W., Li, P., Guo, S. et al. Compensating effect of fulvic acid and super-absorbent polymer on leaf gas exchange and water use efficiency of maize under moderate water deficit conditions. Plant Growth Regul 83, 351–360 (2017).

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