Optimized potassium nutrition improves plant-water-relations of barley under PEG-induced osmotic stress
Aims: Water use efficiency (WUE) of crop plants is an important plant trait for maintaining high yield in water limited areas. By influencing osmoregulation of plants, potassium (K) plays a critical role in stress avoidance and adaptation. However, whole plant physiological mechanisms modulated by K supply in respect of plant drought tolerance and water use efficiency are not well understood. In the present study, growth, development and transpiration dynamics of two barley cultivars were evaluated with and without PEG-induced osmotic stress using an automated balance system and image based leaf area determination. Methods: Experiments were conducted to study the effects of varied K supply under different osmotic stress treatments on a wide range of morphological, biochemical and physiological characteristics of barley plants such as leaf area development, daily whole plant transpiration rate (DTR), stomatal conductance (gs), assimilation rate (AN), biomass and leaf water use efficiency (WUE) as well as foliar abscisic acid (ABA) concentrations. Two barley cultivars (cv. Sahin-91 and cv. Milford) were treated with two K supply levels (0.04 and 0.8 mM K) and osmotic stress induced by polyethylene glycol 6000 (PEG) for a period of 9 days (in total 48 days experiment) in the hydroponic plant culture (non-PEG and + 20% PEG ). Results: Without PEG, low-K supply depressed dry matter (DM) by almost 60% averaged across both cultivars. Under osmotic stress (+PEG), total leaf area was reduced by almost 70% in low-K compared to adequate-K plants. Low K concentration under PEG stress was correlated with higher ABA concentration and was correlated with lower leaf- and whole plant transpiration rate. Biomass- WUE under low K supply decreased significantly in both barley cultivars, to a greater extent in cv. Milford under osmotic stress. However, leaf-WUE was not affected by K supply in the absence of osmotic stress. Conclusions: It was suggested that reduced biomass- WUE in low-K treated barley plants was not related to inefficient stomatal control under K deficiency, but instead due to reduced assimilation rate. It was further hypothesized that under low K supply, a number of energy consuming activities reduce biomass-WUE, which are not distinguished by measuring leaf-WUE. This study showed that low K supply under osmotic stress increases foliar ABA concentration thereby decreasing plant transpiration.