Session: Plant Water Relations Under Increasing VPD: Linkages and Gaps from Soil to Atmosphere
Systemic effects of elevated VPD on plants: Implications for predicting plant adaptation to climate change
Thursday, August 5, 2021
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José López and Walid Sadok, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, Danielle A. Way, Department of Biology, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada
Danielle A. Way
Department of Biology, The University of Western Ontario London, ON, Canada
Background/Question/Methods: Earth is currently undergoing a global increase in atmospheric vapor pressure deficit (VPD), a trend which is expected to continue as climate warms. This phenomenon has been associated with productivity decreases in ecosystems and yield penalties in crops, with these losses attributed to photosynthetic limitations arising from decreased stomatal conductance. Such VPD increases, however, have occurred over decades, which raises the possibility that stomatal acclimation to VPD plays an important role in determining plant productivity under high VPD. Furthermore, evidence points to more far-ranging and complex effects of elevated VPD on plant physiology, extending to the anatomical, biochemical and developmental levels, which could vary substantially across species. Because these complex effects are typically not considered in modelling frameworks, we conducted a quantitative literature review documenting temperature-independent VPD effects on 112 species and 59 traits and physiological variables, in order to develop an integrated and mechanistic physiological framework. Results/Conclusions: We found that VPD reduced yield and primary productivity, an effect that was partially mediated by stomatal acclimation, and also linked with changes in leaf anatomy, nutrient and hormonal status. The productivity decrease was also associated with negative effects on reproductive development, and changes in architecture and growth rates that could decrease the evaporative surface or minimize embolism risk. Cross-species quantitative relationships were found between levels of VPD increase and trait responses, and we found differences across plant groups, indicating that future VPD impacts will depend on community assembly and crop functional diversity. Our analysis confirms predictions arising from the hydraulic corollary to Darcy's law, outlines a systemic physiological framework of plant responses to rising VPD, and provides recommendations for future research to better understand and mitigate VPD-mediated climate change effects on ecosystems and agro-systems.