Drought Avoidance and Phenotypic Flexibility of Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.) Under Water Scarcity Conditions
Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.) is an important staple food in several regions of the world. Water scarcity is the most devastating abiotic stress, with a great impact on crop productivity, food security, and subsistence. Drought restricts the nutrient intake and transport into the plant. Tolerant crops have morphological mechanisms of drought avoidance and/or phenotypic flexibility, showing also good water and nutrient efficiency. However, that information is scarce for sweet potato, which is usually based on physiological traits of plant productivity. Here, we show the physiological responses of eight sweet potato accessions subjected to a 3 months’ drought period, by recording their differences for nutrient and leaf chlorophyll content, biomass and stress level. Our results showed that the differences in water use efficiency (WUE, +68.1%), chlorophyll content index (CCI, -5.3%), total plant biomass (TPB, -55.4%), nutrient efficiency (NER, +38.1%) and nutrient harvest index (NHI, +2.9%) where significantly correlated with the water regime. The water shortage led to a drought avoidance response, with TPB loss in all accessions. Distinct phenotypic flexibility responses were also recorded and explained by the root:shoot ratio (R:S) and stress index (SI) variation of the storage root and shoot growth. This information could be relevant for the development of sweet potato breeding programs, adapting this crop to climate change.
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