Early Flowering as a Drought Escape Mechanism in Plants: How Can It Aid Wheat Production?
de Groot, Stephan
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Drought escape (DE) is a classical adaptive mechanism which involves rapid plant development to enable the completion of the full life-cycle prior to a coming drought event. This strategy is widely used in populations of native plants, and is also applicable to cereal crops such as wheat. Early flowering time and a shorter vegetative phase can be very important for wheat production in conditions of terminal drought since this can minimize exposure to dehydration during the sensitive flowering and post-anthesis grain filling periods. A gradual shift toward early flowering has been observed over the last century of wheat breeding in countries with a Mediterranean-type climate and frequent terminal drought. This trend is predicted to continue for wheat production in the coming years in response to global climate warming. The advantage of early flowering wheat is apparent under conditions of impending terminal drought, and modern varieties are significantly more productive due to minimization of the risk associated with drought stress. Under favorable conditions, a short vegetative phase can result in reduced plant biomass due to the reduction in time available for photosynthetic production and seed nutrient accumulation. However, high yield potential has been reported for the development of both shallow and deep roots, representing plasticity in response to drought in combination with the early flowering trait. Wheat productivity can be high both in well-watered and drought-affected field trials, where an efficient strategy of DE was associated with quick growth, yield potential and water use efficiency. Therefore, early flowering provides a promising strategy for the production of advanced drought-adapted wheat cultivars.
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