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

High vapour pressure deficit and low soil water availability enhance shoot growth responses of a C4 grass (Panicum coloratum cv. Bambatsi) to CO2 enrichment

Saman P. Seneweera, Oula Ghannoum and Jann Conroy

Australian Journal of Plant Physiology 25(3) 287 - 292
Published: 1998


The hypothesis that shoot growth responses of C4 grasses to elevated CO2 are dependent on shoot water relations was tested using a C4 grass, Panicum coloratum (NAD-ME subtype). Plants were grown for 35 days at CO2 concentrations of 350 or 1000 µL CO2 L-1. Shoot water relations were altered by growing plants in soil which was brought daily to 65, 80 or 100% field capacity (FC) and by maintaining the vapour pressure deficit (VPD) at 0.9 or 2.1 kPa. At 350 µL CO2 L-1, high VPD and lower soil water content depressed shoot dry mass, which declined in parallel at each VPD with decreasing soil water content. The growth depression at high VPD was associated with increased shoot transpiration, whereas at low soil water, leaf water potential was reduced. Elevated CO2 ameliorated the impact of both stresses by decreasing transpiration rates and raising leaf water potential. Consequently, high CO2 approximately doubled shoot mass and leaf length at a VPD of 2.1 kPa and soil water contents of 65 and 80% FC but had no effect on unstressed plants. Water use efficiency was enhanced by elevated CO2 under conditions of stress but this was primarily due to increases in shoot mass. High CO2 had a greater effect on leaf growth parameters than on stem mass. Elevated CO2 increased specific leaf area and leaf area ratio, the latter at high VPD only. We conclude that high CO2 increases shoot growth of C4 grasses by ameliorating the effects of stress induced by either high VPD or low soil moisture. Since these factors limit growth of field-grown C4 grasses, it is likely that their biomass will be enhanced by rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Keywords: C4 grass, elevated CO2, soil water supply, vapour pressure deficit, growth, water relations.

© CSIRO 1998

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