Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology

The effect of drought on plant water use efficiency of nine NAD–ME and nine NADP–ME Australian C4 grasses

Oula Ghannoum, Susanne von Caemmerer and Jann P. Conroy

Functional Plant Biology 29(11) 1337 - 1348
Published: 25 November 2002


We investigated the response to drought of nine NAD–malic enzyme (NAD–ME) and nine NADP–malic enzyme (NADP–ME) C4 grasses. Species were grown from seeds in potted soil in a glasshouse. Seedlings were either watered regularly or exposed to two successive drying cycles of 8–10 d each, after which plants were harvested. Under well-watered conditions, average water use efficiency (WUE; dry mass gain per unit water transpired) was similar for NAD–ME and NADP–ME C4 grasses, and ranged between 6.0 and 8.7 g dry mass kg–1 H2O. Drought enhanced WUE of most species, but to a significantly greater extent in NAD–ME (1.20-fold) than NADP–ME (1.11-fold) grasses. Inhibition of dry matter accumulation (average of 12%) and shoot elongation under drought was similar among the C4 grasses. Leaf dry matter carbon (δ13C) and oxygen (δ18O) isotope compositions were significantly different between the two C4 subtypes. Leaf δ13C averaged –13.3 and –12.2, and leaf δ18O averaged 26.0 and 26.9 in well-watered NAD–ME and NADP–ME grasses, respectively. Drought significantly reduced leaf δ13C in most C4 grasses by an average 0.5. Leaf δ18O was not significantly affected by drought, indicating that leaf δ18O does not reflect drought-induced changes in leaf transpiration of C4 grasses. In the experiment reported here, NAD–ME grasses increased their WUE under drought to a greater extent than their NADP–ME counterparts. Increased WUE of the C4 grasses under drought was primarily related to control of water loss relative to carbon gain at the leaf, rather than the plant, level.

Keywords: C4 photosynthesis, drought, water use efficiency, δ 13C, δ 18O.

© CSIRO 2002

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