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Maize shoot and root response to root zone saturation during vegetative growth

, : Maize shoot and root response to root zone saturation during vegetative growth. Agronomy Journal 89(1): 125-134

Excess water adversely affects 12% of the world's soils. In rainfed cropping areas, heavy rainfalls may produce transient soil saturation. Better understanding of plant growth under transient soil water saturation or high water tables is needed for effective simulation models. In particular, improved functions are needed to estimate maize (Zea mays L.) response to root zone saturation of various durations and at different stages of plant growth. This 2-yr study was conducted in Michigan in a field facility where the water table could be independently managed on several 2.1- by 1.5-m-2 plots. Saturated conditions were imposed for 4 or 8 d in early (leaf tip 5-6) or late (leaf tip 10-12) vegetative growth. Shoot growth measurements included leaf extension, biomass, leaf area, leaf senescence, stomatal conductance, and photosynthesis. Roots were observed and counted at several soil depths, using minirhizotron tubes. Root zone saturation had a major impact on almost all aspects of plant growth and yield. Measured yield for the control was 153 g plant-1 in 1991. Plants exposed to root zone saturation yielded about half of the control yield, primarily because of a reduction in kernel number per ear. Biomass growth was reduced through reduced leaf area expansion, increased leaf senescence, and reduced photosynthesis. Root numbers at the 15- and 40-cm depths decreased soon after soil saturation, but root growth increased rapidly about 10 d after the saturated treatments ended and final root numbers were about the same as the control by season's end. Loss of leaf area growth was never recovered, and green leaf area reduction due to senescence further decreased plant growth. Responses to early and late saturation were about the same. Doubling the saturation period reduced final biomass by only an additional 10%, showing the adaptive responses of maize for survival of saturation. Nonetheless, crop yields may be dramatically reduced.

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