To improve sustainability of agriculture, high yielding crop varieties with improved water use efficiency (WUE) are needed. Despite the feasibility of assessing WUE using different measurement techniques, breeding for WUE and high yield is a major challenge. Factors influencing the trait under field conditions are complex, including different scenarios of water availability. Plants with C3 photosynthesis are able to moderately increase WUE by restricting transpiration, resulting in higher intrinsic WUE (iWUE) at the leaf level. However, reduced CO2 uptake negatively influences photosynthesis and possibly growth and yield as well. The negative correlation of growth and WUE could be partly disconnected in model plant species with implications for crops. In this paper, we discuss recent insights obtained for Arabidopsis thaliana (L.) and the potential to translate the findings to C3 and C4 crops. Our data on Zea mays (L.) lines subjected to progressive drought show that there is potential for improvements in WUE of the maize line B73 at the whole plant level (WUEplant). However, changes in iWUE of B73 and Arabidopsis reduced the assimilation rate relatively more in maize. The trade-off observed in the C4 crop possibly limits the effectiveness of approaches aimed at improving iWUE but not necessarily efforts to improve WUEplant.
The full article can be read at Agronomy, Volume 8, Issue 9 (September 2018)