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How nitrogen fixation is modulated in response to different water availability levels and during recovery: A structural and functional study at the whole plant level



The aims of this work were (1) to analyze concomitantly both structural and functional responses of pea plants subjected to decreasing water availability and (2) to evaluate their ability to recover after the drought period.


A pot experiment compared the growth and the nitrogen nutrition of pea plants exposed, during their vegetative stage, to seven water availability levels.


Our results showed that the plant first reacted to water deprivation by maintaining root growth during drought and secondly to a nitrogen deficiency by allocating more carbon to the nodules responsible for nitrogen acquisition during recovery. The specific activity of nodules was negatively impacted by water stress during drought, fully recovered afterwards except after a severe water stress and the number of nodules initiated during recovery depended on the nitrogen nutritional index of the plant at the end of the drought period. This strategy allowed the plant to recover sufficiently and to maintain high values of yield components at harvest, except after a severe water stress, which reduced seed number.


Our findings revealed that water availability levels did not change plant strategy in response to drought but increased the responses observed.

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We gratefully acknowledge the greenhouse team for taking care of the plants, as well as Vincent Durey, Christian Jeudy, Lucie Lainé, Patrick Mathey, and Anne-Lise Santoni for their help during harvests. We thank Nathalie Munier-Jolain and Anne-Sophie Voisin for a critical reading of the manuscript and Richard Thompson for English revision of the manuscript. This work was jointly founded by Conseil Régional de Bourgogne, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (Project ACCAF-CAQ40) and European Commission (Project FP7-ARIMNet-MediLeg).

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Correspondence to Marion Prudent.

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Prudent, M., Vernoud, V., Girodet, S. et al. How nitrogen fixation is modulated in response to different water availability levels and during recovery: A structural and functional study at the whole plant level. Plant Soil 399, 1–12 (2016).

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  • Pisum sativum L.
  • Water stress
  • Nodules
  • N2 fixation
  • Roots
  • Rewatering