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Spatio-temporal variation in transpiration responses of maize plants to vapor pressure deficit under an arid climatic condition

Abstract

The transpiration rate of plant is physically controlled by the magnitude of the vapor pressure deficit (VPD) and stomatal conductance. A limited-transpiration trait has been reported for many crop species in different environments, including Maize (Zea mays L.). This trait results in restricted transpiration rate under high VPD, and can potentially conserve soil water and thus decrease soil water deficit. However, such a restriction on transpiration rate has never been explored in maize under arid climatic conditions in northwestern China. The objective of this study was to examine the transpiration rate of field-grown maize under well-watered conditions in an arid area at both leaf and whole plant levels, and therefore to investigate how transpiration rate responding to the ambient VPD at different spatial and temporal scales. The transpiration rates of maize at leaf and plant scales were measured independently using a gas exchange system and sapflow instrument, respectively. Results showed significant variations in transpiration responses of maize to VPD among different spatio-temporal scales. A two-phase transpiration response was observed at leaf level with a threshold of 3.5 kPa while at the whole plant level, the daytime transpiration rate was positively associated with VPD across all measurement data, as was nighttime transpiration response to VPD at both leaf and whole plant level, which showed no definable threshold vapor pressure deficit, above which transpiration rate was restricted. With regard to temporal scale, transpiration was most responsive to VPD at a daily scale, moderately responsive at a half-hourly scale, and least responsive at an instantaneous scale. A similar breakpoint (about 3.0 kPa) in response of the instantaneous leaf stomatal conductance and hourly canopy bulk conductance to VPD were also observed. At a daily scale, the maximum canopy bulk conductance occurred at a VPD about 1.7 kPa. Generally, the responsiveness of stomatal conductance to VPD at the canopy scale was lower than that at leaf scale. These results indicate a temporal and spatial heterogeneity in how maize transpiration responses to VPD under arid climatic conditions. This could allow a better assessment of the possible benefits of using the maximum transpiration trait to improve maize drought tolerance in arid environment, and allow a better prediction of plant transpiration which underpin empirical models for stomatal conductance at different spatio-temporal scales in the arid climatic conditions.

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Correspondence to Wenzhi Zhao.

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Zhao, W., Ji, X. Spatio-temporal variation in transpiration responses of maize plants to vapor pressure deficit under an arid climatic condition. J. Arid Land 8, 409–421 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-016-0082-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-016-0082-z

Keywords

  • maize
  • limited transpiration trait
  • gas exchange; sap flow
  • stomatal conductance
  • vapor pressure deficit