Journal Article

Optimizing nitrogen economy under drought: increased leaf nitrogen is an acclimation to water stress in willow (<i>Salix</i> spp.)

Martin Weih, Lorenzo Bonosi, Luisa Ghelardini and Ann Christin Rönnberg-Wästljung

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 108, issue 7, pages 1347-1353
Published in print November 2011 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online September 2011 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

The major objective was to identify plant traits functionally important for optimization of shoot growth and nitrogen (N) economy under drought. Although increased leaf N content (area basis) has been observed in dry environments and theory predicts increased leaf N to be an acclimation to drought, experimental evidence for the prediction is rare.


A pedigree of 200 full-sibling hybrid willows was pot-grown in a glasshouse in three replicate blocks and exposed to two water regimes for 3 weeks. Drought conditions were simulated as repeated periods of water shortage. The total leaf mass and area, leaf area efficiency (shoot growth per unit leaf area, EA), area-based leaf N content (NA), total leaf N pool (NL) and leaf N efficiency (shoot growth per unit leaf N, EN) were assessed.

Key Results

In the water-stress treatment, shoot biomass growth was N limited in the genotypes with low NL, but increasingly limited by other factors in the genotypes with greatest NL. The NA was increased by drought, and drought-induced shift in NA varied between genotypes (significant G × E). Judged from the EANA relationship, optimal NA was 16 % higher in the water-stress compared with the well-watered treatment. Biomass allocation to leaves and shoots varied between treatments, but the treatment response of the leaf : shoot ratio was similar across all genotypes.


It is concluded that N-uptake efficiency and leaf N efficiency are important traits to improve growth under drought. Increased leaf N content (area basis) is an acclimation to optimize N economy under drought. The leaf N content is an interesting trait for breeding of willow bioenergy crops in a climate change future. In contrast, leaf biomass allocation is a less interesting breeding target to improve yield under drought.

Keywords: Biomass allocation; biomass production; drought; leaf nitrogen; plant breeding; trait functionality

Journal Article.  5189 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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