Genotypic variation in biomass allocation in response to field drought has a greater affect on yield than gas exchange or phenology

Christine E. Edwards, Brent E. Ewers, Cynthia Weinig

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18 Scopus citations


Background: Plant performance in agricultural and natural settings varies with moisture availability, and understanding the range of potential drought responses and the underlying genetic architecture is important for understanding how plants will respond to both natural and artificial selection in various water regimes. Here, we raised genotypes of Brassica rapa under well-watered and drought treatments in the field. Our primary goal was to understand the genetic architecture and yield effects of different drought-escape and dehydration-avoidance strategies. Results: Drought treatments reduced soil moisture by 62 % of field capacity. Drought decreased biomass accumulation and fruit production by as much as 48 %, whereas instantaneous water-use efficiency and root:shoot ratio increased. Genotypes differed in the mean value of all traits and in the sensitivity of biomass accumulation, root:shoot ratio, and fruit production to drought. Bivariate correlations involving gas-exchange and phenology were largely constant across environments, whereas those involving root:shoot varied across treatments. Although root: shoot was typically unrelated to gas-exchange or yield under well-watered conditions, genotypes with low to moderate increases in root:shoot allocation in response to drought survived the growing season, maintained maximum photosynthesis levels, and produced more fruit than genotypes with the greatest root allocation under drought. QTL for gas-exchange and yield components (total biomass or fruit production) had common effects across environments while those for root:shoot were often environment-specific. Conclusions: Increases in root allocation beyond those needed to survive and maintain favorable water relations came at the cost of fruit production. The environment-specific effects of root:shoot ratio on yield and the differential expression of QTL for this trait across water regimes have important implications for efforts to improve crops for drought resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number185
JournalBMC Plant Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Brassica rapa
  • Dehydration avoidance
  • Drought escape
  • Genotype by environment interactions
  • QTL


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