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An Increase In Water Deficit Has No Impact On The Photosynthetic Capacity Of Field-grown Mediterranean Plants

Salvador Nogués, Leonor Alegre

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In the Mediterranean, annual mean precipitation has continuously decreased over the last three years (by ca 36% in Barcelona), and the decrease has been dramatic during the summer (by ca 78 and 64% during July and August, respectively). The impact of increased drought on the photosynthetic capacity of Mediterranean vegetation is currently unknown. In this study, two native Mediterranean plants [rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) and lavender (Lavandula stoechas L.)] were grown outdoors and subjected to two water regimes (50 mm month–1 during the summer, or no supplementary water at all). Rosemary and lavender plants watered with 50 mm month–1 during the summer had higher relative leaf water content and water potential than non-watered plants. Changes in water status were accompanied by large decreases in parameters of gas exchange [i.e. the light-saturated rate of CO2 assimilation, the maximum velocity of ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate (RuBP) carboxylation by Rubisco and the capacity for RuBP] and of modulated chlorophyll fluorescence (i.e. the relative quantum efficiency of PSII photochemistry and the efficiency of energy capture by open PSII reaction centres) during the summer, but no differences were found in any photosynthetic parameters for leaves subjected to the two water regimes. The drought-induced decreases in the relative quantum efficiency of PSII photochemistry in rosemary and lavender plants were attributable to ‘downregulation’ of electron transport. Photodamage to PSII in the field appeared to be a later effect of drought in these plants. Photorespiration was not a major mechanism protecting the photosynthetic apparatus of these plants from photodamage in the field. After the autumn rainfall, photosynthetic capacity fully recovered. We conclude that rosemary and lavender are well adapted to drought, and that an increase in water deficit is unlikely to have a significant impact on the photosynthetic capacity of leaves.