Proposal of an index of stability for evaluating plant drought memory: A case study in sugarcane

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Ribeiro, Rafael V.
Vitti, Karine A.
Marcos, Fernanda C.C.
Souza, Gustavo M.
Pissolato, Maria D.
Almeida, Luiz Fernando R. [UNESP]
Machado, Eduardo C.

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Stability is a key trait for plant growth and development in a changing environment, involving homeostasis and resilience. While homeostasis refers to the maintenance of the internal structural and functional plant integrity, resilience is associated with the plant ability in returning to the initial conditions after a given disturbance. Such concepts are especially relevant for perennial and semi-perennial plants facing seasonal and frequent stress conditions. Although plant memory is closely associated with plant performance under recurrent stresses, to date, there is no study evaluating how stress memory is linked to stability under varying water conditions. Herein, we evaluated the association between drought stability and memory in sugarcane plants and proposed a new stability index to evaluate plant memory. Two datasets were analyzed, the first deals with leaf gas exchange and photochemistry of sugarcane plants grown in nutrient solution and exposed to one, two or three water deficit cycles. The second takes into account the physiological performance of sugarcane propagules obtained by vegetative propagation from plants that faced drought. To quantify sugarcane stability, we estimated the drought impact, the disturbance rate (DR), drought perturbation, and recovery rate (RR) for plants from both datasets. Drought memory – given by improved performance after previous stress events or when origin material faced drought – was detected in both datasets, changing either DR or RR. Based on these indices, we proposed the overall stability (OSt), defined as the ratio between RR and DR. While DR is associated to plant homeostasis, RR is a measure of plant resilience. Sugarcane plants exposed to three cycles of water deficit or those propagules originated from stressed plants presented the highest OSt values, showing higher RR and/or lower DR when compared to well-watered plants or to propagules from well-watered plants. Regarding the physiological traits evaluated, leaf CO2 assimilation and stomatal conductance were the most consistent variables in revealing drought stability and memory. Concluding, OSt revealed consistently patterns of response associated with plant memory, besides quantifying plant stability under stressful conditions.



Homeostasis, Photosynthesis, Resilience, Saccharum spp., Stomatal conductance

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Journal of Plant Physiology, v. 260.