Physiological response of loblolly pine seedlings to moisture-stress conditioning and their subsequent performance during water stress

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The effect of moisture stress conditioning on the drought tolerance and performance of three open-pollinated families of loblolly pine (Pinus taeda I.) during water stress were investigated. Seedlings were subjected to prolonged sublethal drought treatments which included a watered control, a moderate stress treatment (MWS, seedlings watered only when needle water potential reached -0.8 MPa) and a severe stress treatment (SWS, seedlings watered only when water potential reached -1.4 MPa). After the conditioning period, numerous physiological and morphological parameters were measured, and performance of seedlings during water stress evaluated.

Significant decreases in needle osmotic potential occurred in moisture stress conditioned seedlings. As a result, turgor in conditioned seedlings was equal to or greater than control seedlings even at lower needle water potentials. Photosynthesis vas decreased greatly with reduced needle water potential. However, the MWS and SWS seedlings maintained photosynthesis to water potentials 0.15 and 0.45 MPa lower than control seedlings, respectively. This response is likely the result of both osmotic adjustment, and an acclimation of the photosynthetic process resulting in less non-stomatal inhibition of photosynthesis at low needle water potentials. Initial needle conductance and transpiration, but not photosynthesis, were reduced greatly by the conditioning treatments, and resulted in improved water-use efficiency in conditioned seedlings. The response of stomata to changing vapor pressure deficit was increased through moisture stress conditioning. Boot growth was affected more by moisture stress than shoot growth, causing a decrease in root/shoot ratio. Changes in root morphology as a result of conditioning are not likely to improve the drought tolerance of loblolly pine seedlings. SWS conditioning significantly improved the height growth increment and resulted in slightly greater shoot and root biomass of outplanted, containerized seedlings after the first growing season, despite these seedlings being much smaller at the time of planting. Differences between seed sources did occur in the experiments, with a source from Texas generally showing the least response to moisture stress conditioning.