Publication details

Water-stress physiology of Rhinanthus alectorolophus, a root-hemiparasitic plant

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Year of publication 2018
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source PLOS ONE
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Keywords Water resources; Stomata; Leaves; Seedlings; Photosynthesis; Plant physiology; Wheat; Flowering plants
Description Root-hemiparasitic plants of the genus Rhinanthus acquire resources through a water-wasting physiological strategy based on high transpiration rate mediated by the accumulation of osmotically active compounds and constantly open stomata. Interestingly, they were also documented to withstand moderate water stress which agrees with their common occurrence in rather dry habitats. Here, we focused on the water-stress physiology of Rhinanthus alectorolophus by examining gas exchange, water relations, stomatal density, and biomass production and its stable isotope composition in adult plants grown on wheat under contrasting (optimal and drought-inducing) water treatments. We also tested the effect of water stress on the survival of Rhinanthus seedlings, which were watered either once (after wheat sowing), twice (after wheat sowing and the hemiparasite planting) or continuously (twice and every sixth day after that). Water shortage significantly reduced seedling survival as well as the biomass production and gas exchange of adult hemiparasites. In spite of that drought-stressed and even wilted plants from both treatments still considerably photosynthesized and transpired. Strikingly, low-irrigated plants exhibited significantly elevated photosynthetic rate compared with high-irrigated plants of the same water status. This might relate to biochemical adjustments of these plants enhancing the resource uptake from the host. Moreover, low-irrigated plants did not acclimatize to water stress by lowering their osmotic potential, perhaps due to the capability to tolerate drought without such an adjustment, as their osmotic potential at full turgor was already low. Contrary to results of previous studies, hemiparasites seem to close their stomata in response to severe drought stress and this happens probably passively after turgor is lost in guard cells. The physiological traits of hemiparasites, namely the low osmotic potential associated with their parasitic lifestyle and the ability to withstand drought and recover from the wilting likely enable them to grow in dry habitats. However, the absence of osmotic adjustment of adults and sensitivity of seedlings to severe drought stress demonstrated here may result in a substantial decline of the hemiparasitic species with ongoing climate change.
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