Background and Aims Root hydraulic limitations (i.e. intra-plant restrictions to water movement) may be related to crop performance under drought, and groupings in the hydraulic function of drought-tolerant and drought-susceptible rice (Oryza sativa) varieties have been previously reported. This study aimed to better understand the environmental and physiological relationships with rice root hydraulics under drought.
Methods Xylem sap bleeding rates in the field (gsap g–1shoot) were measured on seasonal and diurnal time frames, during which time environmental conditions were monitored and physiological measurements were conducted. Complementary experiments on the effects of vapour pressure deficit (VPD) on root hydraulic conductivity and on transpiration rates of de-rooted tillers were conducted in growth chambers.
Key Results The diurnal effects on bleeding rate were more closely related to irradiance than VPD, and VPD effects on root hydraulic conductivity measured on 21-day-old plants were due to effects on plant growth including root surface area, maximum root depth and root:shoot ratio. Leaf osmotic potential was related to the grouping of drought-tolerant and drought-susceptible varieties in rice root hydraulics, and these groupings were independent of differences in phenology. Low single-tiller bleeding rates were observed under high evapo-transpirational demand, higher bleeding rates were observed at more negative leaf osmotic potentials in drought-susceptible varieties, and drought-tolerant and susceptible varieties differed in the VPD-induced increase in transpiration rates of de-rooted tillers. Low root suberin amounts in some of the drought-susceptible varieties may have resulted in higher ion transport, as evidenced by higher sap K+ concentration and higher bleeding rates in those varieties.
Conclusions These results provide evidence of the environmental effects on shoots that can influence root hydraulics. The consistent groupings of drought-tolerant and susceptible varieties suggest that traits affecting plant osmotic status may regulate root hydraulic response to drought in rice.