BACKGROUND: The root system is the major plant organ involved in water and nutrient acquisition, influencing plant growth and productivity. However, the relative importance of root size and uptake efficiency remains undetermined. A pot experiment was conducted using two wheat varieties with different root sizes to evaluate their capacity for water and nitrogen (N) uptake and their effects on grain production, water-use efficiency (WUE), and N-use efficiency (NUE) under two water treatments combined with three N levels.
RESULTS: The leaf water potential and root exudates of changhan58 (CH, small root variety) were higher or similar to those of changwu134 (CW, large root variety) under water/N treatment combinations, indicating that small roots can transport enough water to above-ground. Nitrogen addition significantly improved plant growth, photosynthetic traits, and WUE. There were no significant differences in WUE or grain production between the two cultivars under well-watered conditions. However, they were significantly higher in CH than in CW under water deficit stress. N uptake per unit root dry weight, glutaminase and nitrate reductase activities were significantly higher in CH than in CW, regardless of moisture conditions. Root biomass was positively correlated with evapotranspiration, while the root/shoot ratio was negatively correlated with WUE (P < 0.05) but not with NUE.
CONCLUSION: In a pot experiment, water- and N-uptake were more strongly associated with resource uptake availability than root size. This may provide guidance in wheat breeding programs for drought-prone regions. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.