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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Water use of tall and dwarf crop plants


The recurrent California drought necessitates investigation of the relationship between water application, crop yields, and management practices. The majority of cultivars in many crops are genetically dwarfed which allows the application of larger amounts of water and fertilizer in return for higher yields and ease of harvesting. This project used bread wheat as a model system to investigate the water use and water-use efficiency of taIl and dwarf cultivars. Four near-isogenic lines, rhtrht (tall), RhtlRhtl (semidwarf), Rht2Rht2 (semidwarf), and Rht3Rht3 (dwarf), in 'Maringa' bread wheat background and four of their near-isogenic Fl hybrids derived from crossing the original lines were used to determine the effects of dwarfing genes on plant height, water use, grain yield, total dry matter, and wateruse efficiency in well-watered and droughted pot experiments in the glasshouse. The nearisogenic lines and their six F 1 hybrids were also grown in well-watered and droughted field conditions. The glasshouse season lasted 158 days, whereas the field season took 149 days between planting and harvesting. Carbon isotope discrimination was determined as a measure of transpiration efficiency. The near-isogenic lines used similar amounts of water in well-watered (12 kg per 158 days) and droughted (9 kg per 158 days) pot experiments. The Rht3Rht3 dwarf line actually used 3% less water than the tall line in a well-watered situation, and 5% less water than tall line in a droughted situation, but these differences were not significant in this experiment. Plant height ranged from 60 to 124 em and from 53 to 121 ern in well-watered and droughted pot experiments, and it varied from 50 to 94 cm and from 49 to 90 cm in well-watered and droughted field experiments, respectively. Total dry matter, grain yield, transpiration efficiency (total dry matter/water used), and water-use efficiency (grain yield/water used) declined with plant height in well-watered glasshouse conditions. No significant relationships were found between plant height and these traits in droughted glasshouse conditions. Carbon isotope discrimination was negatively correlated with transpiration efficiency, but significantly so only in well-watered pot experiments. Plant height was negatively associated with carbon isotope discrimination in both well-watered and droughted pot and field experiments. Grain yield and aboveground dry matter also declined with plant height in field conditions. In most cases, the dwarfing genes reduced shoot dry matter more than grain yield, therefore, harvest index of the semidwarf and dwarf lines was higher than that of the tall standard line. The dwarfism caused by Rhtl, Rht2, and Rht3 genes had, in general, depressing effects on transpiration efficiency, water-use efficiency, total dry matter, and grain yield. An optimum range for plant height was determined (90- 100 ern) using these near-isogenic lines, below which shoot dry matter, grain yield, and water-use efficiency were significantly reduced.

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