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Burkholderia phytofirmans strain PsJN effects on drought resistance, physiological responses and growth of switchgrass
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To decrease dependency of fossil fuels and avoid direct competition with food crops, massive research efforts are investigating next-generation cellulose biofuel crops such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). A low-input, sustainable switchgrass production could be achieved by reducing traditional management practices though applying plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR), of which our understanding is still rather limited. To elucidate physiological mechanisms behind PGPR's beneficial effects, we inoculated switchgrass seedlings with Burkholderia phytofirmans strain PsJN. Two experiments were conducted to determine the initial and long-term responses of switchgrass to PsJN inoculation by tracking growth and leaf physiology. In a third experiments, we tested the effects of PsJN on growth and leaf-level physiology of switchgrass under a moderate pre-drought conditioning and a successive severe drought stress. PsJN inoculation increased biomass and promoted elongation of shoots within 17 days following inoculation. The enhanced root growth in PsJN inoculated plants lagged behind the shoot response, resulting in greater allocation to aboveground growth (p=0.0041). Lower specific root length (p=0.0158) and higher specific leaf weight (p=0.0029) were also observed in PsJN inoculated seedlings, indicating advanced development. Photosynthetic rates (Ps) were higher in PsJN inoculated seedlings after 17 days (54%, p=0.0016), which were related to higher stomatal conductance, greater water use efficiency, and lower non-stomatal limitation of Ps. These rapid changes in leaf physiology are at least partially responsible for switchgrass growth enhancement from PsJN treatment. The early growth enhancement in PsJN inoculated switchgrass linearly decreased with plant age. PsJN inoculation increased Ps of upper canopy leaves by 13.6% but reduced Ps of lower canopy leaves by 8.2%. Accelerated leaf senescence and early flowering were observed in PsJN-inoculated switchgrass, which might contribute to slightly lower aboveground biomass at final harvesting. Drought preconditioning increased Ps of PsJN-inoculated switchgrass during a later severe drought; whereas, control switchgrass only benefited from drought preconditioning when leaf water potential dropped below -1 MPa. This study verified early growth enhancement and accelerated development of switchgrass due to PsJN inoculation. Rapid improvement in leaf physiology is related to enhanced productivity. PsJN inoculation also improve drought tolerance of switchgrass.
- Doctoral Dissertations