Cladode growth dynamics in Opuntia ficus-indica under drought

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Abstract

Cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica L. Miller) is a CAM plant with an extraordinary capacity to store water in its succulent stems (cladodes). However, the daily variations of cladode thickness is unknown. Studying cladode thickness fluctuations may be useful for the early prediction of plant dehydration stress. The objective of this study was to determine if age, water availability and temperature influence diel cladode shrinkage and enlargement dynamics in cactus pear. The experiment was conducted in a greenhouse from April to July 2014, using cactus pear plants, equally split into irrigated and unirrigated treatments, and unrooted cladodes detached from mother plants. Soil moisture content (SMC), soil water depletion over 24-h, cladode relative water content (RWC), cladode thickness, stomatal conductance (gs), cladode growth rates (area increase) and nocturnal malic acid accumulation were monitored in plants of various ages. Cladode shrinkage and enlargement dynamics were assessed using stem gauges and expressed as absolute growth rate (AGRthickness, μmmin-1). In unirrigated pots, drought decreased SMC, RWC,cladode thickness, cladode growth rate and gs. Younger cladodes lost water later than older ones. Detached cladodes exhibited gs activity 3-4 months after detachment. Trends of AGRthickness showed that there was a progressive reduction of diel swelling and shrinkage fluctuations as cladodes aged. Such fluctuations were minimized under severe drought when 1-year-old cladodes reached 8mm thickness and a RWC of about 45%. A positive correlation was found between SMC and AGRthickness. Temperatures were also directly correlated with AGRthickness, although this relationship was gradually lost as SMC decreased. Overall, cactus pears were able to maintain some growth at very low hydration levels, and cladode growth was highly responsive to rehydration after long periods of drought.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-167
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental and Experimental Botany
Volume122
Publication statusPublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science

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