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Keywords:

  • water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC);
  • sugar;
  • fructan;
  • water stress;
  • drought resistance;
  • Lolium perenne (perennial ryegrass)

Simulated swards of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) growing in 1-m3 soil blocks in the glasshouse were either well watered or deprived of water for 57 d and then rewatered. The first aim was to measure effects of drought on sugar (water-soluble carbohydrate) composition of laminae and sheaths of mature laminae, and bases and laminae of young (growing) leaves. The second aim was to use pulse labelling with 14CO2 to follow the partitioning of recently-fixed assimilates, and the assembly and consumption of reserve sugars (fructans). Over the last 7 d of drought growth almost stopped, old leaves died faster than they were replaced, and total sugar (which had doubled in concentration during drought) was rapidly consumed. Leaf laminae had lower content of total sugars and of large fructan (DP>5) than did growing bases and sheaths. Drought greatly reduced the rate at which sugar was exported from the laminae to the sheaths and growing leaf bases, and the rate at which it was converted to fructan. Nevertheless, fructan accumulated over the first 50 d of drought. Rewatering did not result in depolymerization and remobilization of sugars that had been formed during the last 7 d of drought, but stimulated their further assembly into high-DP fructans. Our hypothesis, that accumulation of neo-kestose (a DP-3 fructan) in droughted laminae was a symptom of sugar remobilization just before death, was disproved. It is concluded that sugar reserves contribute to drought resistance only under extreme conditions. The specific role of fructan in dry environments might be to improve regrowth when drought is relieved, rather than to enhance growth during drought.