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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Soybean resilience to drought is supported by partial recovery of photosynthetic traits

Elsalahy, Heba H. H.; Reckling, Moritz


Climate change affects precipitation dynamics and the variability of drought frequency, intensity, timing, and duration. This represents a high risk in spring-sown grain legumes such as soybean. Yet, under European conditions, no evidence supports the potential recovery and resilience of drought-tolerant soybean cultivars after episodic drought, at different growth stages. A field experiment was conducted using a representative drought-tolerant cultivar of soybean (cv. Acardia), in 2020 and 2021, on sandy soils in Germany, applying four water regimes (irrigated, rainfed, early-drought, and late-drought stress). Drought stress was simulated by covering the plots during the event of rain with 6 x 6 m rainout shelters, at the vegetative (V-stage) and flowering (Fl-stage) stages. Drought response was quantified on plant height, chlorophyll fluorescence ratio (ChlF ratio), chlorophyll content (Chlc), and leaf surface temperature (LST), at different intervals after simulating drought until pod filling. Grain yield and yield components were quantified at the end of the growing season. Compared to rainfed conditions, a drought at V-stage and Fl-stage reduced significantly plant height, ChlF ratio, and Chlc by 20%, 11%, and 7%, respectively, but increased LST by 21% during the recovery phase. There was no recovery from drought except for Chlc after V-stage in 2021, that significantly recovered by 40% at the end of the growing season, signifying a partial recovery of the photochemical apparatus. Especially, there was no recovery observed in LST, implying the inability of soybean to restore LST within the physiological functional range (Graphical abstract). Under rainfed conditions, the grain yield reached 2.9 t ha(-1) in 2020 and 5.2 t ha(-1) in 2021. However, the episodic drought reduced the yield at V-stage and Fl-stage, by 63% and 25% in 2020, and 21% and 36% in 2021, respectively. To conclude, the timing of drought was less relevant for soybean resilience; however, pre-and post-drought soil moisture, drought intensity, and drought duration were likely more important. A drought-tolerant soybean cultivar may partially be drought resilient due to the recovery of photosynthetic traits, but not the leaf thermal traits. Overall, these findings will accelerate future efforts by plant breeders, aimed at improving soybean drought resilience.


drought; leaf thermal recovery; photosynthetic recovery; resilience; soil moisture; soybean

Published in

Frontiers in Plant Science
2022, Volume: 13, article number: 971893

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG13 Climate action

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    Climate Research
    Agricultural Science

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