Higher forage yields under temperate drought explained by lower transpiration rates under increasing evaporative demand

Pierre Hainaut, Thibaut Remacle, Christian Decamps, Richard Lambert, Walid Sadok

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In temperate regions, perennial forage-based cropping systems are expected to face an increasing frequency of summer droughts over the next decades prompting the need for more resilient cultivars. However, most efforts mainly focus on Mediterranean-type environments where the plant survival is often engaged. Under temperate environments, vapor pressure deficit (VPD) is a key component of drought, because its variation alters the crop transpiration rate (TR) and therefore its ability to fix carbon even in well-watered conditions. Despite this knowledge, there is no available data about the diversity of whole-plant TR responses to VPD and soil moisture among key forage crops such as alfalfa, red clover, cock's foot and perennial ryegrass. Further, field-based evidence is lacking regarding the links between TR responses to VPD and yield under drought. Here, we combined experimental approaches characterizing gas exchange responses to VPD and soil moisture at scales that ranged from the growth chamber to the field, where yields were characterized both quantitatively and qualitatively over the course of 2 years on 8 genotypes from the 4 above species. A significant variability in TR responses to increasing VPD and soil water deficit was found among locally-adapted cultivars. More importantly, TR responses to VPD - but not to decreasing soil moisture - were found to be consistently correlated to relative yield performances under drought, in a way indicating that conservative water use under high evaporative demand promoted higher yield outputs. In contrast, yields under drought were unrelated to canopy temperature and leaf gas exchange measured in the field. Further, no link was found between TR responses to VPD and qualitative yield traits such as digestibility indicating that the hypothesized water saving strategy does not improve yield at the expense of forage quality. This study opens the way for future forage breeding and management strategies taking advantage of the diversity of TR responses to drought to implement climate-change resilient forage-based systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-98
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Agronomy
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Belgian Walloon Region (DGO 3, grants #: D31-1283 and D31-1341). We thank the staff from the Centre Alphonse de Marbais experimental station for assistance during the experiments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Drought tolerance
  • FTSW
  • Forage crops
  • Transpiration
  • Vapor pressure deficit
  • Yield


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