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ARS Home » Plains Area » Temple, Texas » Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #346062

Research Project: Resilient Management Systems and Decision Support Tools to Optimize Agricultural Production and Watershed Responses from Field to National Scale

Location: Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory

Title: Legacies in switchgrass resistance to and recovery from drought suggest that good years can sustain plants through bad years

Author
item Hawkes, C - University Of Texas
item Kiniry, James

Submitted to: BioEnergy Research
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/30/2017
Publication Date: 2/20/2018
Citation: Hawkes, C.V., Kiniry, J.R. 2018. Legacies in switchgrass resistance to and recovery from drought suggest that good years can sustain plants through bad years. BioEnergy Research. 11:86-94. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12155-017-9879-7.

Interpretive Summary: Switchgrass is a warm-season perennial grass often considered for biofuel. To be successful, switchgrass production must be on low-quality landscapes with minimal inputs while facing future climates that could be more extreme and more variable. We propose that previous years’ growing season rainfall constrains how plants respond to drought, as well as subsequently recover from drought. To test this idea, we examined how six switchgrass genotypes responded to a 1-year severe drought and then recovered under normal rainfall in the following year. These plants had previously grown for 3 years under a range of dry to wet irrigation levels in a shallow-soil common garden with no fertilizer. Plants previously exposed to drought produced less biomass and basal area after the severe drought was relieved compared to previously well-watered plants. In addition, there were legacy effects caused by plant size: plants that were larger pre-drought were more likely to survive the severe drought and plants that were larger during the severe drought recovered more biomass, basal area, and tillers post-drought. Although genotypes differed somewhat in their responses, the size constraint was consistent across genotypes. These findings suggest that we can establish more drought-resilient switchgrass stands by, for example, planning for initial irrigation or planting during a wet year to allow plants to grow larger prior to experiencing drought. Additional studies are needed to understand if these rainfall and size legacies persist.

Technical Abstract: The warm-season perennial switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a candidate bioenergy crop. To be successful, switchgrass production must be maintained on low-quality landscapes with minimal inputs while facing future climates that are expected to be more extreme and more variable. We propose that antecedent rainfall constrains how plants respond to drought, as well as subsequently recover from drought. To test this idea, we examined how six switchgrass genotypes responded to a 1-year severe drought and then recovered under normal rainfall in the following year. These plants had previously grown for 3 years under a range of dry to wet irrigation levels in a shallow-soil common garden with no fertilizer. Plants previously exposed to drought produced less biomass and basal area after the severe drought was relieved compared to previously well-watered plants. In addition, there were legacy effects caused by plant size: plants that were larger pre-drought were more likely to survive the severe drought and plants that were larger during the severe drought recovered more biomass, basal area, and tillers post-drought. Although genotypes differed somewhat in their responses, the size constraint was consistent across genotypes. These findings suggest that we can establish more drought-resilient switchgrass stands by, for example, planning for initial irrigation or planting during a wet year to allow plants to grow larger prior to experiencing drought. Additional studies are needed to understand whether these rainfall and size legacies persist or are transient.