Water use dynamics of dryland canola (Brassica napus L.) grown on contrasting soils under elevated CO2


Background and aims

Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration ([CO2]) stimulates the leaf-level (intrinsic) water use efficiency (iWUE), which may mitigate the adverse effects of drought by lowering water use in plants. This study investigated the interactive effect of [CO2] and soil type on growth, yield and water use of canola (Brassica napus L.) in a dryland environment.


Two canola cultivars (vigorous hybrid cv. ‘Hyola 50’ and non-hybrid cv. ‘Thumper’) were grown in large intact soil cores containing either a sandy Calcarosol or clay Vertosol under current ambient (a[CO2]) and future elevated [CO2] (e[CO2]), ∼550 μmol mol−1). Net assimilation rates (Anet), stomatal conductance (gs) and leaf area were measured throughout the growing season. Seed yield and yield components were recorded at final harvest. Water use was monitored by lysimeter balances.


Elevated [CO2]-stimulation of iWUE was greater than the effect on leaf area, therefore, water use was lower under e[CO2] than a[CO2], but this was further modified by soil type and cultivar. The dynamics of water use throughout the growing season were different between the studied cultivars and in line with their leaf development. The effect of e[CO2] on seed yield was dependent on cultivar; the non-hybrid cultivar benefitted more from increased [CO2]. Although textural differences between soil types influenced the water use under e[CO2], this did not affect the ‘CO2 fertilisation effect’ on the studied canola cultivars.


Elevated [CO2]-induced water savings observed in the present study is a potential mechanism of ameliorating drought effects in high CO2 environment. Better understanding of genotypic variability in response to water use dynamics with traits affecting assimilate supply and use can help breeders to improve crop germplasm for future climates.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
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Fig. 5



Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration


Elevated [CO2]


Ambient [CO2]


Free Air CO2 Enrichment


Australian Grains FACE




Measurement Engineering Australia

Anet :

Net CO2 assimilation rate

gs :

Stomatal conductance


Intrinsic water use efficiency


Days after sowing


Root means squared error


Total seed yield in g plant−1


Sound seed number siliqua−1


Mean individual sound seed weight


Siliqua number plant−1






Deep drainage from the root zone


Capillary rise to the root zone




Soil water depletion

Min temp:

Minimum temperature

Max temp:

Maximum temperature

ETo :

Reference evapotranspiration


Electrical conductivity


Exchangeable sodium percentage


Phosphorus buffering index


Relative humidity


Vapour pressure deficit


Global solar radiation


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The Australian Grains Free Air CO2 Enrichment (AGFACE) programme was jointly run by the University of Melbourne and Agriculture Victoria Research (Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources) with substantial funding from the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the AGFACE field team lead by Russel Argall, Mel Munn and Roger Perris (all Agriculture Victoria) for collecting soil water data and helping to manage the experiment, Samuel Henty and Maryse Bourgault (University of Melbourne) for field support and Mahabubur Mollah for operating the CO2 enrichment technology. SU was supported by a Melbourne International Research Scholarship.

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Uddin, S., Parvin, S., Löw, M. et al. Water use dynamics of dryland canola (Brassica napus L.) grown on contrasting soils under elevated CO2. Plant Soil 438, 205–222 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-019-03987-1

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  • Climate change
  • Dryland agriculture
  • FACE
  • CO2 fertilisation effect
  • Water use
  • Intrinsic water use efficiency