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Phenology and growth adjustments of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) to photoperiod and climate variability

Legros, S., Mialet-Serra, I., Caliman, J.-P., Siregar, F.A., Clément-Vidal, A., Dingkuhn, M.
Annals of botany 2009 v.104 no.6 pp. 1171-1182
inflorescences, flowering, drought, correlation, phenology, genotype, planting, fruit yield, leaves, climate, dry season, palm oils, asexual reproduction, models, soil water, photoperiod, vegetative growth, evapotranspiration, Elaeis guineensis, sex determination, rain, fruiting, Indonesia
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Oil palm flowering and fruit production show seasonal maxima whose causes are unknown. Drought periods confound these rhythms, making it difficult to analyse or predict dynamics of production. The present work aims to analyse phenological and growth responses of adult oil palms to seasonal and inter-annual climatic variability. METHODS: Two oil palm genotypes planted in a replicated design at two sites in Indonesia underwent monthly observations during 22 months in 2006-2008. Measurements included growth of vegetative and reproductive organs, morphology and phenology. Drought was estimated from climatic water balance (rainfall - potential evapotranspiration) and simulated fraction of transpirable soil water. Production history of the same plants for 2001-2005 was used for inter-annual analyses. KEY RESULTS: Drought was absent at the equatorial Kandista site (0°55'N) but the Batu Mulia site (3°12'S) had a dry season with variable severity. Vegetative growth and leaf appearance rate fluctuated with drought level. Yield of fruit, a function of the number of female inflorescences produced, was negatively correlated with photoperiod at Kandista. Dual annual maxima were observed supporting a recent theory of circadian control. The photoperiod-sensitive phases were estimated at 9 (or 9 + 12 x n) months before bunch maturity for a given phytomer. The main sensitive phase for drought effects was estimated at 29 months before bunch maturity, presumably associated with inflorescence sex determination. CONCLUSION: It is assumed that seasonal peaks of flowering in oil palm are controlled even near the equator by photoperiod response within a phytomer. These patterns are confounded with drought effects that affect flowering (yield) with long time-lag. Resulting dynamics are complex, but if the present results are confirmed it will be possible to predict them with models.