Collegium Helveticum
© Andrea Carminati
Fellow Project 2023–2024

Rise of Atmospheric Drought
Pathways for Improving Crop Resilience Using Soil and Plant Hydraulics

Recent evidence indicates that climate change is driving an increase in what is called “atmospheric drought” and that this increase is threatening plant productivity and global food security. Plants typically respond to this phenomenon by increasing their transpiration and therefore their water use. However, this comes at a cost, as this behavior amplifies the risk of soil water deficit, and therefore yield losses. To address this challenge, this project rests on the followingfundamental question: Can we hope to design crop varieties with the right set of fine-tuned “hydraulic resistances” so that they can still use water for growth but not too much so that they can achieve economically-viable yields under climate change?

To this end, this project will integrate key knowledge in soil physics and plant eco-physiology as examine this question for wheat, a major staple crop that is widely grown in water-limited environments. Specifically, we will leverage novel approaches to examine the extent of phenotypic variability in plant and root-soil hydraulic resistances to water flow in response to rising atmospheric drought and its biophysical basis.