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Nutrient And Drought Stress: Implications For Phenology And Biomass Quality In Miscanthus

Ricardo M F da Costa, Rachael Simister, Luned A Roberts, Emma Timms-Taravella, Arthur B Cambler, Fiona M K Corke, Jiwan Han, Richard J Ward, Marcos S Buckeridge, Leonardo D Gomez, Maurice Bosch

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Abstract Background and Aims The cultivation of dedicated biomass crops, including miscanthus, on marginal land provides a promising approach to the reduction of dependency on fossil fuels. However, little is known about the impact of environmental stresses often experienced on lower-grade agricultural land on cell-wall quality traits in miscanthus biomass crops. In this study, three different miscanthus genotypes were exposed to drought stress and nutrient stress, both separately and in combination, with the aim of evaluating their impact on plant growth and cell-wall properties. Methods Automated imaging facilities at the National Plant Phenomics Centre (NPPC-Aberystwyth) were used for dynamic phenotyping to identify plant responses to separate and combinatorial stresses. Harvested leaf and stem samples of the three miscanthus genotypes (Miscanthus sinensis, Miscanthus sacchariflorus and Miscanthus × giganteus) were separately subjected to saccharification assays, to measure sugar release, and cell-wall composition analyses. Key Results Phenotyping showed that the M. sacchariflorus genotype Sac-5 and particularly the M. sinensis genotype Sin-11 coped better than the M. × giganteus genotype Gig-311 with drought stress when grown in nutrient-poor compost. Sugar release by enzymatic hydrolysis, used as a biomass quality measure, was significantly affected by the different environmental conditions in a stress-, genotype- and organ-dependent manner. A combination of abundant water and low nutrients resulted in the highest sugar release from leaves, while for stems this was generally associated with the combination of drought and nutrient-rich conditions. Cell-wall composition analyses suggest that changes in fine structure of cell-wall polysaccharides, including heteroxylans and pectins, possibly in association with lignin, contribute to the observed differences in cell-wall biomass sugar release. Conclusions The results highlight the importance of the assessment of miscanthus biomass quality measures in addition to biomass yield determinations and the requirement for selecting suitable miscanthus genotypes for different environmental conditions.