Research Topic

Abiotic stresses in agroecology: a challenge for whole plant physiology

About this Research Topic

Understanding plant responses to abiotic stresses is central to our ability to predict the impact of global change and environmental pollution on the production of food, feed and forestry. Besides increasing CO2 concentration and rising global temperature, increasingly frequent and severe climatic events ...

Understanding plant responses to abiotic stresses is central to our ability to predict the impact of global change and environmental pollution on the production of food, feed and forestry. Besides increasing CO2 concentration and rising global temperature, increasingly frequent and severe climatic events (e.g. extended droughts, heat waves, flooding) are expected in the coming decades. Additionally, pollution (e.g. heavy metals, ozone, SO2, NOx) is an important factor in many regions, decreasing plant productivity and product quality.

This Research topic focuses on stress responses at the level of whole plants, addressing biomass-related processes (development of the root system, root respiration/fermentation, leaf expansion, stomatal regulation, photosynthetic capacity, leaf senescence, yield) and interactions between organs (transport via xylem and phloem, long-distance signaling and secondary metabolites). Comparisons between species and between varieties of the same species are welcomed to evaluate the potential for species selection and genetic improvement.

The following abiotic stresses should be addressed:

- Elevated temperature: both the steady rise in average temperature and extreme events of shorter duration (heat waves) must be considered in the context of alterations in carbon balance through increased photorespiration, decreased Rubisco activation and carboxylation efficiency, damage to photosynthetic apparatus, as well as loss of water via transpiration and stomatal sensitivity.

- Low temperatures (late frosts, prolonged cold phases, freezing temperature) can decrease overwintering survival rates, productivity of crop plants and species composition in meadows.

- Drought: more frequent, severe and extended drought periods have been predicted by climate change models. The timing and duration of a drought period is crucial to determining plant responses, particularly if the drought event coincides with an increase in temperature. Drought causes stomatal closure, decreasing the cooling potential of transpiration and potentially leading to thermal stress as leaf temperature rises.

- Waterlogging: seedlings and young plants are especially susceptible to waterlogging. It is not the presence of water itself that causes the stress, but the exclusion of oxygen from the soil which causes a decrease in respiration and an increase in fermentation rates followed by a period of potential oxidative stress as water recedes.

- Heavy metals: several heavy metals which are micronutrients for plants (e.g. Fe, Mn, Cu, Zn, Ni, Mo) may impair growth when present in excess. Other heavy metals are known to occur only as pollutants (e.g. Cd, Hg, Pb), which when accumulated represent a risk for the plant and consumers of those plant products.

- Salinity: high salt concentration in soil influences soil water potential, the water status of the plant and hence affects productivity. Salt tolerance will become an important trait driven by increased competition for land and the need to exploit marginal lands.

- Gaseous pollutants: the naturally occurring gaseous pollutants ozone, SO2 and NOx exert specific stress-induced limitation of the production potential of crop plants. Furthermore, gaseous compounds released from burning processes may be converted to other compounds in the atmosphere. These may enter the leaves via the stomates and damage leaves.


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