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Plant and Soil

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Extensive worldwide dryland degradation calls for identification of functional traits critical to dryland plant performance and restoration outcomes. Most trait examination has focused on drought tolerance, although most dryland systems are water and nutrient co-limited. We studied how drought impacts both plantwater relations and nitrogen (N) nutrition.
We grew a suite of grasses common to the Intermountain West under both well-watered and drought conditions in the greenhouse. These grasses represented three congener pairs (Agropyron, Elymus, Festuca) differing in their habitat of origin ("wetter" or "drier"). We measured growth, water relations, N resorption efficiency and proficiency and photosynthetic N use efficiency in response to drought.
Drought decreased growth and physiological function in the suite of grasses studied, including a negative impact on plant N resorption efficiency and proficiency. This effect on resorption increased over the course of the growing season. Evolutionary history constrained species responses to treatment, with genera varying in the magnitude of their response to drought conditions. Surprisingly, habitat of origin influenced few trait responses.
Drought impacted plant N conservation, although these responses also were constrained by evolutionary history. Future plant development programs should consider drought tolerance not only from the perspective of water relations but also plant mineral nutrition, taking into account the role of phylogeny.