Root growth and water uptake during water deficit and recovering in wheat

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Root growth and soil water content were measured in a field experiment with wheat subjected to two periods of water deficit. The first period was induced early in the season between the early vegetative stage (22 DAS) and late terminal spikelet (50 DAS), the second period at mid-season between terminal spikelet (42 DAS) and anthesis (74 DAS). Total root growth was reduced under water deficit by a reduction in the top 30 cm, while the root system continued to grow in the deeper soil profile between 30 and 60 cm. Shortly after rewatering, the growth pattern reverted to fastest root growth rates in the shallow soil layers. In relative terms, the total root system increased in relation to the above ground dry matter under water shortage. The early-, the mid-season water deficit treatments, and the control treatment had total root length of 27.4, 19.4 and 30.6 km m−2, respectively, about 2 wk before maturity. Evapotranspiration declined under water deficit, but water uptake in deeper layers increased. Water uptake per unit root length was reduced with water deficit and was still low shortly after rewatering. Remarkable was the increase in water uptake at 2–3 weeks after rewatering, both deficit treatments exceeded the control by almost 100%. This increase in water uptake followed the burst of new root growth in the upper regions of the soil. However, water uptake rates subsequently declined towards maturity, being between 0.15 L km−1 d−1 and 0.17 L km−1 d−1 for the early and mid-season water deficit treatments, slightly higher than the control, 0.12 L km−1 d−1. The results showed that the crop subjected to early water deficit could compensate for some of the reductions in root growth during subsequent rewatering, but the impact of the mid-season water deficit treatment was more severe and permanent.

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