Reducing the Excessive Evaporative Demand Improved the Water-use Efficiency of Greenhouse Cucumber by Regulating the Trade-off between Irrigation Demand and Plant Productivity

in HortScience

Although atmospheric evaporative demand mediates water flow and constrains water-use efficiency (WUE) to a large extent, the potential to reduce irrigation demand and improve water productivity by regulating the atmospheric water driving force is highly uncertain. To bridge this gap, water transport in combination with plant productivity was examined in cucumber (Cucumis sativus L.) grown at contrasting evaporative demand gradients. Reducing the excessive vapor pressure deficit (VPD) decreased the water flow rate, which reduced irrigation consumption significantly by 16.4%. Reducing excessive evaporative demand moderated plant water stress, as leaf dehydration, hydraulic limitation, and excessive negative water potential were prevented by maintaining water balance in the low-VPD treatment. The moderation of plant water stress by reducing evaporative demand sustained stomatal function for photosynthesis and plant growth, which increased substantially fruit yield and shoot biomass by 20.1% and 18.4%, respectively. From a physiological perspective, a reduction in irrigation demand and an improvement in plant productivity were achieved concomitantly by reducing the excessive VPD. Consequently, WUE based on the criteria of plant biomass and fruit yield was increased significantly by 43.1% and 40.5%, respectively.

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Corresponding author. E-mail: zdl880626@sdau.edu.cn.

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    Comparison of (A) predawn and (B) midday leaf water potential between low- and high-vapor pressure deficit (VPD) treatments. ns = nonsignificant.

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    Effect of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) regulation on the energetic and hydraulic driving forces for water transport along the soil–plant–atmosphere continuum. Solid and dotted lines represent a series of pathways of water flow in liquid and vapor phases. ΔΨ represents water potential drawdown between two compartments of the soil–plant–atmosphere continuum.

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    Comparison of the typical diurnal variations in (A) plant transpiration and (B) leaf relative water content in the high- and low-vapor pressure deficit (VPD) treatments on a sunny day. Values are the means ± se (n = 5). Significant differences between high- and low-VPD treatments were compared using Tukey’s test. *, **Significant at P < 0.05 or 0.01, respectively.

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    Effect of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) regulation on (A) plant hydraulic conductance and (B) crop water stress index. Values are the means ± se (n = 10). Significant differences between the high- and low-VPD treatments were compared using Tukey’s test. *, **Significant at P < 0.05 or 0.01, respectively. CWSI = crop water stress index.

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    (A–F) Effect of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) regulation on leaf gas exchange parameters. Values are the means ± se (n = 8). During measurement, environmental conditions in the leaf chamber were set close to open-field conditions in the greenhouse. Significant differences between high- and low-VPD treatments were compared using Tukey’s test. *, **Significant at P < 0.05 or 0.01, respectively. CO2 = carbon dioxide; WUE = water-use efficiency.

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    Effect of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) regulation on biomass production of (A) leaf, (B) stem, (C) fruit, and (D) shoot. Values are means ± se (n = 10). Significant differences between high- and low-VPD treatments were examined using Tukey’s test. ns, *Nonsignificant or significant at P < 0.05, respectively.

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    Effect of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) regulation on plant growth parameters. (A) Relative growth rate (RGR), (B) net assimilation rate (NAR), and (C) leaf area ratio (LAR) were analyzed in plants sampled at 20 and 40 d after transplanting. Values are means ± se (n = 10). Significant differences between high- and low-VPD treatments were examined using Tukey’s test. ns, *Nonsignificant or significant at P < 0.05, respectively.

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    Effect of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) regulation on (A) fruit yield, (B) cumulative transpired water consumption, (C) water-use efficiency (WUE) based on criteria of fruit yield, and (D) shoot biomass. Values are means ± se (n = 10). Significant differences between high- and low-VPD treatments were examined using Tukey’s test. *, **Significant at P < 0.05 or 0.01, respectively.

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