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Mason T. MacDonald, Rajasekaran R. Lada, Martine Dorais and Steeve Pepin

Ethylene accumulation increases after harvest and culminates in needle abscission in balsam fir [Abies balsamea (L.) Mill.]. We hypothesize that water deficit induces ethylene evolution, thus triggering abscission. The purpose of this research was to investigate the role of temperature and humidity on postharvest needle abscission in the presence and absence of exogenous ethylene and link vapor pressure deficit (VPD) to postharvest needle abscission in balsam fir. In the first experiment, branches were exposed to 30%, 60%, or 90% humidity while maintained at 19.7 °C (VPD of 1.59, 0.91, or 0.23 kPa, respectively); in the second experiment, branches were exposed to 5, 15, or 25 °C (VPD of 0.35, 0.68, or 1.26 kPa, respectively) while maintained at 60% relative humidity. Needle retention duration, average water use, xylem pressure potential relative water content, and ethylene evolution were response variables. Reducing water loss or xylem tension by changing temperature or humidity effectively delayed needle abscission, although the 90% humidity treatment had the most profound effects. In the absence of exogenous ethylene, branches placed in 90% humidity had a fivefold increase in needle retention, 67% decrease in average water use, and had a final xylem pressure potential of –0.09 MPa. There was a near perfect relationship between VPD and needle retention (R2 = 0.99). These findings suggest that increasing xylem tension or decreasing water status may trigger ethylene synthesis and needle abscission. In addition, these findings demonstrate an effective means of controlling postharvest needle abscission by modifying temperature and/or relative humidity.

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Mason T. MacDonald, Rajasekaran R. Lada, Alex I. Martynenko, Martine Dorais, Steeve Pepin and Yves Desjardins

Needle loss after harvest is a major problem for Atlantic Canada's Christmas tree and greenery industry. Ethylene is a signal for abscission in balsam fir, but preliminary studies have suggested that the role of ethylene may be influenced by length of exposure. Short-term and long-term ethylene exposure experiments were conducted. Branches were exposed to ethylene for 24 h (short-term) or continuously (long-term) at concentrations of 0 to 1000 ppm. The response variables measured were needle retention duration (NRD), average water use (AWU), and xylem pressure potential (XPP). Short-term exposure to any concentration of ethylene delayed needle abscission by 30 to 40 days. In contrast, long-term exposure to all concentrations of ethylene accelerated abscission, most evident by a 21-day decrease in NRD at 1000 ppm ethylene. There was a 60% decrease in NRD, 160% decrease (more negative) in XPP, and 80% increase in AWU as a result of long-term exposure to ethylene. Overall, our results demonstrate an opposite effect of short-term and long-term ethylene exposure, which suggests that short-term exposure to ethylene might help to precondition balsam fir and delay needle abscission during postharvest handling.

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Mason T. MacDonald, Rajasekaran R. Lada, Jeff Hoyle and A. Robin Robinson

Ambiol, a derivative of 5-hydroxybenzimidazole, has been well documented to function as a growth promoter, an antistress compound, and an antioxidant when applied as a seed preconditioning agent. However, evidence suggests that Ambiol decreases transpiration and promotes root growth similar to the phytohormone abscisic acid (ABA), leading to the development of the hypothesis that Ambiol promotes drought resistance through an ABA-dependent pathway. The effect of 0 mg·L−1 and 10 mg·L−1 was tested on wild-type tomato seedlings (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill. var. Scotia), ABA-deficient flacca tomato seedlings, and ABA-inhibited (with fluridone) tomato seedlings. In both fluridone-treated and flacca seedlings, Ambiol preconditioning resulted in significant increases in shoot growth, root growth, leaf area, and plant height consistent with gains experienced by wild-type tomatoes. In addition, flacca tomatoes experienced increases in photosynthesis and water use efficiency consistent with wild-type tomatoes. Ambiol was able to confer benefits to drought-stressed tomatoes in ABA-deficient and ABA-inhibited conditions, suggesting that Ambiol functions through an ABA-independent pathway.

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Mason T. MacDonald, Rajasekaran R. Lada, A. Robin Robinson and Jeff Hoyle

There is strong evidence that Ambiol® (a derivative of 5-hydroxybenzimazole) promotes drought tolerance in many plants; it is often suggested that this is the result of its antioxidant properties. Recent evidence has also shown that several natural antioxidants promote carrot germination under drought stress. Thus, it was hypothesized that seed preconditioning using natural antioxidants might confer drought tolerance. Ambiol®, ascorbic acid, β-carotene, lutein, and lycopene were chosen as antioxidants at concentrations of 0.1 mg·L−1, 1.0 mg·L−1, and 10 mg·L−1. A preconditioning treatment was applied by soaking tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) seeds in an antioxidant solution for 24 h. Of the antioxidants tested, 10 mg·L−1 Ambiol®, 1.0 mg·L−1 β-carotene, 1.0 mg·L−1 ascorbic acid, and 0.1 mg·L−1 lycopene were shown to increase shoot dry mass by 114%, 94%, 56%, and 83%, respectively, in droughted seedlings when compared with a droughted control. Similar benefits were observed in root dry mass, leaf area, photosynthesis, and water use efficiency. Proteins were extracted from the seeds of certain treatments, before and after germination, and separated using isoelectric focusing. Specific proteins were found to be induced through all preconditioning treatments, whereas Ambiol® and β-carotene were found to induce specific proteins, independent of those induced through imbibition, both before and after germination. This result suggests that Ambiol® and β-carotene evoke specific proteins that may confer drought tolerance to the key physiological processes studied. In addition, protein profiles of ascorbic acid, β-carotene, and Ambiol® after germination had fewer visible bands than the controls, suggesting an accelerated mobilization or conversion of proteins within the seed.