Effects of superhydrophobic sand mulching on evapotranspiration and phenotypic responses in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) plants under normal and reduced irrigation

10 April, 2022

iLab new article was published in Plant-environment Interactions

Title:  Effects of superhydrophobic sand mulching on evapotranspiration and phenotypic responses in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) plants under normal and reduced irrigation

by Kennedy Odokonyero, Adair Gallo Jr, Vinicius dos Santos  & Himanshu Mishra

Abstract:

Irrigated agriculture in arid and semi-arid regions is a vital contributor to the global food supply. However, these regions endure massive evaporative losses that are compensated by exploiting limited freshwater resources. To increase water-use efficiency in these giga-scale operations, plastic mulches are utilized; however, their non-biodegradability and eventual land-filling renders them unsustainable. In response, we have developed superhydrophobic sand (SHS) mulching technology that is comprised of sand grains or sandy soils with a nanoscale coating of paraffin wax. Here, we investigate the effects of 1 cm-thick SHS mulching on the evapotranspiration and phenotypic responses of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) plants as a model system under normal and reduced irrigation inside controlled growth chambers. Experimental results reveal that under either irrigation scenario, SHS mulching suppresses evaporation and enhances transpiration by 78% and 17%, respectively relative to the unmulched soil. Comprehensive phenotyping revealed that SHS mulching enhanced root xylem vessel diameter, stomatal aperture, stomatal conductance, and chlorophyll content index by 21%, 25%, 28%, and 23%, respectively, in comparison with the unmulched soil. Consequently, total fruit yields, total dry mass, and harvest index increased in SHS-mulched plants by 33%, 20%, and 16%, respectively compared with the unmulched soil. We also provide mechanistic insights into the effects of SHS mulching on plant physiological processes. These results underscore the potential of SHS for realizing food–water security and greening initiatives in arid regions.