Asparagus is considered a relatively drought tolerant plant, but few studies are available on the gas exchange response to soil moisture stress. Seedlings were grown in the greenhouse for six months before initiation of the water stress treatments. Soils were allowed to dry to matric potentials of -0.05, -0.3 and -0.5 MPa before rewatering to pot capacity. Gas exchange and fern water potentials were measured diurnally on asparagus plants when soil matric potentials reached their minima. Decreasing soil matric potentials decreased net carbon dioxide assimilation, stomatal conductance and fern water potential. Assimilation rates (6 am) were between 3 and 5 umols m-2 s-1 for all soil moisture treatments. Carbon assimilation rates of 10, 8, and 7 umols m-2 s-1 were recorded at 10 am for the -0.05, -0.3 and -0.5 MPa soil matric potentials, respectively. Assimilation rates decreased sharply over the remainder of the day. The diurnal pattern for conductance were similar to the assimilation rates. Fern water potentials were greater in the -0.05 MPa than in the -0.5 MPa treatment for all measurement periods with an intermediate response for soil matric potentials of -0.3 MPa. Fern water potentials were highest at 6 am (-0.2 to -0.6 MPa) before declining to their minima (-1.5 to -1.8 MPa) at 10 am. Water potentials remained at these low levels throughout the day before recovering slightly at 6 pm.
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