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

Partial rootzone drying improves almond tree leaf-level water use efficiency and afternoon water status compared with regulated deficit irrigation

Gregorio Egea A B F , Ian C. Dodd C , María M. González-Real A , Rafael Domingo D E and Alain Baille A

A Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena, Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros Agrónomos, Área de Ingeniería Agroforestal, Paseo Alfonso XIII, 48, 30203, Cartagena, Spain.

B Soil Research Centre, Department of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6DW, UK.

C The Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, LA1 4YQ, UK.

D Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena, Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros Agrónomos, Departamento de Producción Vegetal, Paseo Alfonso XIII, 48. 30203. Cartagena, Spain.

E Unidad Asociada al CSIC de Horticultura Sostenible de Zonas Áridas (UPCT-CEBAS), Spain.

F Corresponding author. Email: g.egeacegarra@reading.ac.uk

Functional Plant Biology 38(5) 372-385 https://doi.org/10.1071/FP10247
Submitted: 21 December 2010  Accepted: 11 March 2011   Published: 2 May 2011

Abstract

To determine whether partial rootzone drying (PRD) optimised leaf gas exchange and soil–plant water relations in almond (Prunus dulcis (Mill.) D.A. Webb) compared with regulated deficit irrigation (RDI), a 2 year trial was conducted on field-grown trees in a semiarid climate. Five irrigation treatments were established: full irrigation (FI) where the trees were irrigated at 100% of the standard crop evapotranspiration (ETc); three PRD treatments (PRD70, PRD50 and PRD30) that applied 70, 50 and 30% ETc, respectively; and a commercially practiced RDI treatment that applied 50% ETc during the kernel-filling stage and 100% ETc during the remainder of the growth season. Measurements of volumetric soil moisture content in the soil profile (0–100 cm), predawn leaf water potential (Ψpd), midday stem water potential (Ψms), midday leaf gas exchange and trunk diameter fluctuations (TDF) were made during two growing seasons. The diurnal patterns of leaf gas exchange and stem water potential (Ψs) were appraised during the kernel-filling stage in all irrigation regimes. When tree water relations were assessed at solar noon, PRD did not show differences in either leaf gas exchange or tree water status compared with RDI. At similar average soil moisture status (adjudged by similar Ψpd), PRD50 trees had higher water status than RDI trees in the afternoon, as confirmed by Ψs and TDF. Although irrigation placement showed no effects on diurnal stomatal regulation, diurnal leaf net photosynthesis (Al) was substantially less limited in PRD50 than in RDI trees, indicating that PRD improved leaf-level water use efficiency.

Additional keywords: deficit irrigation, leaf gas exchange, Prunus dulcis, regulated deficit irrigation, soil moisture heterogeneity, stem water potential.


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