Effect of water availability on physiological performance and lettuce crop yield (Lactuca sativa)
Water is essential for plants, affecting the majority of the physiological processes related to growth and productivity. Water shortage is one of the most common factors that limit crop productivity worldwide. Many cultivars have elevated water requirements, nevertheless in some countries due to global climate change effects, the availability of water for irrigation is becoming limited. In fact, current models of climate changes predict that central Chile will be a sensitive zone where precipitation will drastically decrease. In this study, the variation of gas exchange and production of fresh biomass in a lettuce cultivar, grown under different water availability regimes, was evaluated. Additionally, the concentration of total soluble sugar and water use efficiency (WUE) as mechanisms related to water shortage responses were also evaluated. Overall, individuals with the lowest water availability (50%) showed lower gas exchange and fresh biomass values than their conspecifics grown in optimal irrigated conditions. On the other hand, those individuals with moderate water shortage showed the highest concentration of total soluble sugars and WUE. Our results suggested that cultures exposed to extensive or intense drought events, could be negatively affected in both physiological performance and productivity. Nevertheless, slight decreases in water availability can enable lettuce plants to exhibit a high WUE, maintaining high levels of physiological performance and productivity.