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Escape from water or remain quiescent? Lotus tenuis changes its strategy depending on depth of submergence

Manzur, M.E., Grimoldi, A.A., Insausti, P., Striker, G.G.
Annals of botany 2009 v.104 no.6 pp. 1163-1169
Lotus glaber, biomass production, carbon, flooded conditions, forage legumes, plant response, porosity, root growth, roots, shoots, soil, starch, submerged aquatic plants, submergence
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Two main strategies that allow plants to cope with soil waterlogging or deeper submergence are: (1) escaping by means of upward shoot elongation or (2) remaining quiescent underwater. This study investigates these strategies in Lotus tenuis, a forage legume of increasing importance in areas prone to soil waterlogging, shallow submergence or complete submergence. METHODS: Plants of L. tenuis were subjected for 30 d to well-drained (control), waterlogged (water-saturated soil), partially submerged (6 cm water depth) and completely submerged conditions. Plant responses assessed were tissue porosity, shoot number and length, biomass and utilization of water-soluble carbohydrates (WSCs) and starch in the crown. KEY RESULTS: Lotus tenuis adjusted its strategy depending on the depth of submergence. Root growth of partially submerged plants ceased and carbon allocation prioritized shoot lengthening (32 cm vs. 24·5 cm under other treatments), without depleting carbohydrate reserves to sustain the faster growth. These plants also developed more shoot and root porosity. In contrast, completely submerged plants became quiescent, with no associated biomass accumulation, new shoot production or shoot elongation. In addition, tissue porosity was not enhanced. The survival of completely submerged plants is attributed to consumption of WSCs and starch reserves from crowns (concentrations 50-75 % less than in other treatments). CONCLUSIONS: The forage legume L. tenuis has the flexibility either to escape from partial submergence by elongating its shoot more vigorously to avoid becoming totally submerged or to adopt a non-elongating quiescent strategy when completely immersed that is based on utilizing stored reserves. The possession of these alternative survival strategies helps to explain the success of L. tenuis in environments subjected to unpredictable flooding depths.