Genotypic variations in leaf gas exchange and yield were analysed in five upland-adapted and three lowland rice cultivars subjected to a differential soil moisture gradient, varying from well-watered to severely water-stressed conditions. A reduction in the amount of water applied resulted in a significant decrease in leaf gas exchange and, subsequently, in above-ground dry mass and grain yield, that varied among genotypes and distance from the line source. The comparison between the variable J and the values in recently synthesized sugars methods, yielded congruent estimations of mesophyll conductance (gm), confirming the reliability of these two techniques. Our data demonstrate that gm is a major determinant of photosynthesis (A), because rice genotypes with inherently higher gm were capable of keeping higher A in stressed conditions. Furthermore, A, gs, and gm of water-stressed genotypes rapidly recovered to the well-watered values upon the relief of water stress, indicating that drought did not cause any lasting metabolic limitation to photosynthesis. The comparisons between the A/Ci and corresponding A/Cc curves, measured in the genotypes that showed intrinsically higher and lower instantaneous A, confirmed this finding. Moreover, the effect of drought stress on grain yield was correlated with the effects on both A and total diffusional limitations to photosynthesis. Overall, these data indicate that genotypes which showed higher photosynthesis and conductances were also generally more productive across the entire soil moisture gradient. The analysis of revealed a substantial variation of water use efficiency among the genotypes, both on the long-term (leaf pellet analysis) and short-term scale (leaf soluble sugars analysis).
Journal of Experimental Botany (2009) 60 (8) 2325-2339 [doi:10.1093/jxb/erp123]