Home - Publications - Papers - Abstracts  

Hartmann, J., Asch, F. 2019.
Extraction, Storage Duration, and Storage Temperature Affect the Activity of Ascorbate Peroxidase, Glutathione Reductase, and Superoxide Dismutase in Rice Tissue. Biology 8, 70; doi:10.3390/biology8040070.


In experimental plant science, research often faces large numbers of tissue samples resulting from sequential harvests of a larger number of genotypes and treatments combinations. Analyses of biological processes such as enzyme kinetics are often time-consuming or need specific sample preparation procedures before the actual measurements can be done. Time is thus often the critical factor and the possibility to store plant samples either as tissue or as extracts increases the available timeframe for analyses. Biological molecules such as enzymes often change their activities when stored and thus do not reflect the processes occurring in living tissue. We investigated the effect of different storage methods such as freeze-drying, freezing at −20 °C, and freezing at −80 °C on the activity of three enzymes known as antioxidants, namely ascorbate peroxidase, glutathione reductase, and superoxide dismutase from two rice varieties. Varieties differed in enzyme activity in extracts of fresh material from leaf blades, leaf sheaths, and roots. When subjected to different storage methods, there were no differences between varieties, but strong effects of the different storage methods on enzyme activities were found. The effects of the storage methods on enzyme activity strongly differed between extracts from stored tissue samples or extracts stored from freshly sampled material. We propose enzyme-specific storage methods and durations that allow for expanding the window for analyses in large experimental studies involving destructive samplings for enzyme kinetics.

Full paper online here

Saidia, P.S., Asch, F., Kimaro, A., Germer, J., Kahimba, F., Graef, F., Semoka, J., Rweyemamu, C.L. 2019.
Soil moisture management and fertilizer micro-dosing on yield and land utilization efficiency of inter-cropping maize-pigeon-pea in sub humid Tanzania, Agricultural Water Management 223, 105712.


Principally caused by soil water stress and declining soil fertility, low crop productivity results in both food and income insecurity. The effects of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer micro-dosing with inter-row rainwater harvesting practices for maize and pigeon-pea inter-cropping on yield and land use efficiency are inadequately documented in sub humid tropics. A field experiment on sandy loam soils in sub humid conditions using a split-split plot design was conducted. Plots used in situ rainwater harvesting practices of tied ridges, open ridges, and flat cultivation. Sub-plots were sole maize, sole pigeon-pea, and 1:1 maize-pigeon pea inter-cropping. The sub-sub plots were control, fertilizer (N and P) application at the micro-dose level, and recommended rates. Tied ridges significantly (p < 0.001) conserved more soil moisture than flat cultivation at 30 cm depth after ten days of rainfall. Ridges increased maize yield by 0.3 t ha−1 over flat cultivation. Fertilizer application significantly (p < 0.001) increased maize yield by 1.12 t ha−1 with micro-dosing and by 1.60 t ha−1 with recommended rates over the control. Combining tied ridges and fertilizer significantly (p < 0.040) increased maize yield by 132–156% compared to flat cultivation without fertilizer. Reflecting a land equivalent ratio, land use efficiency was 67–122% higher in inter-cropping than sole crop. Tied ridges conserved more soil moisture than flat cultivation, enhancing fertilizer use efficiency that improved crop yields and land equivalent ratio under inter-cropping. This strategy could increase food availability and income generation under smallholder farming systems in sub-humid tropic areas.

link to paper here

Reinhardt, N., Schaffert, A., Chilangne, E., Swai, E., Rweyemamu, C., Germer, J., Asch, F. Herrmann, L. 2019.
The role of soil and land information in technology transfer targeting subsistence farmers in central Tanzania. Experimental Argiculture, DOI: 10.1017/S0014479719000103


This article deals with technology transfer from science to agriculture with pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum (L.)R.Br.) in central Tanzania as example. The major question is which validity recommendations from different types of field experiments have and how geo-information (i.e. soil and landscape position) can lead to more site-specific recommendations. Tied ridging and reduced amounts of placed fertilizer during sowing were tested to increase yields on researcher-managed plots on-station, demonstration plots in villages, and farmer-managed plots on-farm. While on-station trials provided potential yield effects, physical distance to the station and differing conditions led to a higher informational value of village plots that mirror the context of local farmers. The treatments often resulted in significant yield increase. Soil and relief information and distance to settlements (i.e. gradient of management intensity) are key factors for data variability in on-farm trials. Unexplained variability is introduced through leaving degrees of freedom with respect to management to the farmer. Apart from soil and physiographic information, the latter should be part of a detailed data collection procedure in agronomic trials in large numbers addressing Sub-Saharan smallholder farming. Balanced data sets with dispersed trials on crucial soil and relief units are essential for future research.

link to paper here

Schneider, P., Sander B.O., Wassmann, R., Asch, F. 2019.
Potential and versatility of WEAP software (Water Evaluation and Planning System) for impact assessments of Alternate Wetting and Drying in irrigated rice. Agricultural Water Management, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2019.03.030


The production of irrigated rice is increasingly challenged by freshwater scarcity. Water saving technologies such as Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) allow sustaining production levels under reduced water availability. Before implementing such innovations on a large scale, their hydrological impact on the system needs to be assessed. This study investigated the applicability of the water management tool WEAP (Water Evaluation and Planning System) for evaluating the effects of AWD on water use and water resources at field and irrigation system level for two different case studies in Central Luzon, the Philippines. In the first study, the Zeigler Experiment Station (ZES) of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was used for parameterization of WEAP and field-scale assessment of AWD, making use of the availability of spatially and temporally highly resolved data. In the second study, WEAP was applied to an irrigation scheme in the Philippines, the Angat-Maasim River Irrigation System (AMRIS) to assess effects on up- and downstream water resources using lower resolution data. Simulated AWD implementation during the dry season reduced water requirements by 12–27% and 34.3% on ZES and AMRIS, respectively. Additionally, AWD implementation enhanced streamflow in main and lateral canals, and thus increased water availability in the entire irrigation system. We also conducted an ex-ante assessment of future freshwater availability assuming reduced precipitation due to climate change effects alongside with irrigation supply at current levels. WEAP showed that water levels in the reservoir will substantially decline under these circumstances leading to severe water stress in AMRIS. Implementing AWD in such a scenario improved water availability in the system by up to 50%. WEAP proved to be a suitable tool for upscaling different irrigation techniques and assessing their impact on water resources on a large scale. Limitations of the approach and future possibilities for improvements are discussed.

link to paper here

Thellmann, K., Golbon, R., Cotter, M., Cadisch, G., Asch, F. 2019.
Assessing hydrological ecosystem services in a rubber-dominatedwatershed under scenarios of land use and climate change. Forests, 10 (2), 176; DOI: 10.3390/f10020176.


Land use and climate change exert pressure on ecosystems and threaten the sustainable supply of ecosystem services (ESS). In Southeast-Asia, the shift from swidden farming to permanent cash crop systems has led to a wide range of impacts on ESS. Our study area, the Nabanhe Reserve in Yunnan province (PR China), saw the loss of extensive forest areas and the expansion of rubber (Hevea brasiliensis Müll. Arg.) plantations. In this study, we model water yield and sediment export for a rubber-dominated watershed under multiple scenarios of land use and climate change in order to assess how both drivers influence the supply of these ESS. For this we use three stakeholder-validated land use scenarios, varying in their degree of rubber expansion and land management rules. As projected climate change varies remarkably between different climate models, we combined the land use scenarios with datasets of temperature and precipitation changes, derived from nine General Circulation Models (GCMs) of the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in order to model water yield and sediment export with InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Trade-offs). Simulation results show that the effect of land use and land management decisions on water yield in Nabanhe Reserve are relatively minor (4% difference in water yield between land use scenarios), when compared to the effects that future climate change will exert on water yield (up to 15% increase or 13% decrease in water yield compared to the baseline climate). Changes in sediment export were more sensitive to land use change (15% increase or 64% decrease) in comparison to the effects of climate change (up to 10% increase). We conclude that in the future, particularly dry years may have a more pronounced effect on the water balance as the higher potential evapotranspiration increases the probability for periods of water scarcity, especially in the dry season. The method we applied can easily be transferred to regions facing comparable land use situations, as InVEST and the IPCC data are freely available.

link to full paper here

Kurtz, D. B., Giese, M., Asch, F., Windisch, S. H., Goldfarb, M. C. 2018.
Effects of High Impact Grazing on Species Diversity and Plant Functional Groups in Grasslands of Northern Argentina. Sustainability 2018, 10, 3153; doi.org/10.3390/su10093153.


High impact grazing (HIG) was proposed as a management option to reduce standing dead biomass in Northern Argentinean (Chaco) rangelands. However, the effects of HIG on grassland diversity and shifts in plant functional groups are largely unknown but essential to assess the sustainability of the impact. During a two-year grazing experiment, HIG was applied every month to analyze the seasonal effects on plant species composition and plant functional groups. The results indicate that irrespective of the season in which HIG was applied, the diversity parameters were not negatively affected. Species richness, the Shannon–Wiener diversity index and the Shannon’s equitability index did not differ from the control site within a 12-month period after HIG. While plant functional groups of dicotyledonous and annual species could not benefit from the HIG disturbance, C3-, C4-monocotyledonous and perennials increased their absolute and relative green cover. Our results suggest that HIG, if not applied in shorter frequencies than a year, neither alters diversity nor shifts the plant species composition of the grassland plant community, but instead it promotes previously established rather competitive species. HIG could therefore contribute as an alternative management practice to the sustainable land use intensification of the “Gran Chaco” grassland ecosystem and even counteract the encroachment of “low value” species.

link to full paper here

Saidia, P.S., Rweyemamu, C.L., Asch, F., Semoka, J.M.R., Kimaro, A.A., Germer, J., Graef, F., Lagweni, P., Kahimba, F., Chilagane, E.F. 2018.
Effects of Nitrogen and Phosphorus Micro-Doses on Maize Growth and Yield in a Sub-Humid Tropical Climate. Annals of Biological Research 9 (2): 20-35


Inadequate knowledge on fertilizer usage and poor financial resources are among the reasons for low maize productivity under small-scale farming. Fertilizer micro-dosing may increase food production by using low rates which are affordable by most resource poor farmers and have a high investment return. A two-year field experiment was conducted on sandy loam and sandy clay soils being typical representatives of sub-humid tropical agroecological zones. A split-plot design involved di-ammonium phosphate (DAP), Minjingu mazao (MM) and triple super phosphate (TSP) as main plots and fertilizer micro-dose rates of 10 kg N and 5 kg P/ha, 20 kg N and 10 kg P/ha, 40 kg N and 20 kg P/ha, 60 kg N and 30 kg P/ha, recommended rate 80 kg N and 40 kg P ha-1 and control as sub-plots. Phosphate fertilizers that produced highest grain yield were MM (2317 kg/ha), followed by DAP (2173 kg/ha) and TSP (2115 kg/ha). Fertilizer micro dose rates (10 kg N and 5 kg P/ha; 20 kg N and 10 kg P/ha) increased the yield by 90.5 and 136.6% from 1012 kg/ha in control, respectively. Intermediate rates (40 kg N and 20 kg P/ha) and (60 kg N and 30 kg P/ha) produced average grain yields of 2629 and 2647 kg/ha while the recommended rate produced 2601 kg/ha. The highest grain yield was 3910 kg/ha from MM at 40 kg N and 20 kg P/ha. Considering the micro-dose options therefore, MM fertilizer and micro dose

link to full paper here

Thellmann, K., Cotter, M., Baumgartner, S., Treydte, A., Cadisch, G., Asch, F. 2018.
Tipping Points in the Supply of Ecosystem Services of a Mountainous Watershed in Southeast Asia. Sustainability 10, 2418. doi:10.3390/su10072418


Rubber plantations have expanded at an unprecedented rate in Southeast Asia in recent decades. This has led to a substantial decline in the supply of ecosystem services (ESS) and has reduced livelihood options and socioeconomic well-being in rural areas. We assessed the impact of two land use scenarios on the supply of ESS in a mountainous watershed in Xishuangbanna Prefecture, People’s Republic of China. We combined time-series data derived from spatially explicit ESS models (InVEST) with a sequential, data-driven algorithm (R-method) to identify potential tipping points (TPs) in the supply of ESS under two rubber plantation expansion scenarios. TPs were defined as any situation in which the state of a system is changed through positive feedback as a result of accelerating changes. The TP analysis included hydrological, agronomical, and climate-regulation ESS, as well as multiple facets of biodiversity (habitat quality for vertebrate, invertebrate, and plant species). We identified regime shifts indicating potential tipping points, which were linked to abrupt changes in rubber yields, in both scenarios at varying spatial scales. With this study, we provide an easily applicable method for regional policy making and land use planning in data-scarce environments to reduce the risk of traversing future TPs in ESS supply for rubber producing land use systems.

link to full paper here

Graef, F., Mutabazi, K.D., Sieber, S., Asch, F., Makoko, B., Bonatti, M., Brüntrup, M., Gornott, C., Herrmann, L., Herrmann, R. et al. 2018.
Multi-Disciplinary North-South Collaboration in Participatory Action Research on Food Value Chains: a German-Tanzanian Case Study on Perceptions, Experiences and Challenges. Systemic Practice and Action Research. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11213-018-9458-7


Upgrading local food value chains is a promising approach to invigorating African food systems. This endeavour warrants multi-disciplinary North-South collaboration and partnerships through participatory action research (PAR) to help leverage appropriate upgrading strategies (UPSs) with a focus on local stakeholders. The more disciplines, cultures, and partner institutions that are involved, the more a project will present challenges in terms of communication and coordinating activities. Our aim was to determine the costs and investigate whether PAR with a multi-disciplinary approach was feasible in rural Tanzania with over 600 local stakeholders and more than 100 scientists. This article presents a self-evaluation of the collaboration and communication of project scientists during their research activities. Despite the overall high satisfaction, the more complex and complicated PAR activities required more cooperation, instructions and communication among the project scientists than had been anticipated in this multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural, and multi–institutional context, resulting in greater tension and dissatisfaction. The findings indicate that this type of large multi-disciplinary PAR is challenging in terms of flexibility in the planning of research activities, the administration of finances, and cross-cultural communication. Potential avenues to overcome these obstacles include a) more communication on PAR activities across cultures to develop a shared vocabulary; b) developing other modes of shared responsibility for a more horizontal collaboration; and c) more face-to-face cross-cultural activities to overcome cultural, disciplinary and geographical distance.

link to full paper here

Atique-ur-Rehman, Farooq, M., Rashid, A., Nadeem, F., Stuerz, S., Asch, F., Bell, R.W., Siddique, K.H.M. 2018
Boron nutrition of rice in different production systems. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 38 (3), art. no. 25.


Half of the world’s population—more than 3.5 billion people—depend on rice for more than 20% of their daily energy requirements. Rice productivity is under threat for several reasons, particularly the deficiency of micronutrients, such as boron (B). Most rice-based cropping systems, including rice–wheat, are facing B deficiency as they are often practiced on high pH and alkaline soils with low B contents, low soil organic matter, and inadequate use of B fertilizer, which restricts the availability, uptake, and deposition of B into grains. Farmers’ reluctance to fertilize rice fields with B—due to the lack of cost-effective B-enriched macronutrient fertilizers—further exacerbates B deficiency in rice-based cropping systems. Here we review that, (i) while rice can tolerate excess B, its deficiency induces nutritional disorders, limits rice productivity, impairs grain quality, and affects the long-term sustainability of rice production systems. (ii) As B dynamics in the soil varies between flooded and aerobic rice systems, different B deficiency management strategies are needed in rice-based cropping systems. (iii) Correct diagnosis of B deficiency/toxicity in rice; understanding its interaction with other nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium; and the availability and application of B fertilizers using effective methods will help to improve the sustainability and productivity of different rice production systems. (iv) Research on rice-based systems should focus on breeding approaches, including marker-assisted selection and wide hybridization (incorporation of desirable genes), and biotechnological strategies, such as next-generation DNA and RNA sequencing, and genetic transformations to develop rice genotypes with improved B contents and abilities to acquire B from the soil. (v) Different B application strategies—seed priming and foliar and/or soil application—should be included to improve the performance of rice, particularly when grown under aerobic conditions.

link to full paper here

Shibabaw, A., Alemayehu, G., Adgo, E., Asch, F., Freyer, B. 2018
Effects of organic manure and crop rotation system on potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) tuber yield in the highlands of Awi Zone. Ethiopian Journal of Science and Technology 11, 1-18.


Lack of sustainable soil fertility management system is a critical challenge in the highlands of Awi Zone. Important physicochemical properties of the soil are below the critical level to support crop growth. Hence, a study was undertaken with the aim of improving the yield of potato through organic treatments and sound crop rotation system. Two rotation systems and four levels of organic treatments were factorially arranged and laid out in RCBD with four replications. The organic treatments were: V1 = 0 t/ha farmyards manure (FYM); V2 = 2.5 t/h fresh sesbania green manure (FSB) V3 = 5 t/ha FYM; and V4 = 5 t/ha FYM +2.5 t/ha FSB applied in fixed plots for three years. Indeed, the rotation systems varied from year to year to estimate the changes in potato tuber yields due to the differences in crop rotation systems. Tuber yields of potato showed increasing trend over the period of the three years with the lowest in the first year, intermediate in the second year and the highest in the third year across all treatments. Among all, the highest total potato tuber yield (35.15 t/ha) was obtained at the combined application of 5 t/ha FYM +2.5 t/ha FSB and clover-wheat-potato rotation system in the third year. The treatment combination increased total potato tuber yield by 140% and 41% over that of the first and the second years and would be recommended as ecologically sound option in improving the productivity of potato.

link to full paper here

Hartmann, J., Asch, F. 2018.
Micro-method to determine iron concentrations in plant tissues using 2,2' bipyridine. Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science, in press.


Research often needs to determine iron (Fe) concentrations in plant tissue samples. Current established methods depend on equipment and often require skilled laboratory staff, large sample sizes and are relatively slow and expensive. We propose an efficient and fast method for measuring Fe concentrations of small rice samples via a microplate reader using sodium dithionite (SDT) as reducing agent and dipyridyl (DPD) as coloring agent. The results show that the method yields results comparable to ICP-OES measurements which were used as standard method. Different concentrations of the chemicals used were tested for extraction, reducing power, and coloring efficiency to optimize the method for the range of concentrations to be expected in rice under toxic Fe conditions. Best results were obtained using 500 mM SDT and 10 mM DPD, a sample size of 0.01g dry weight, and Fast Prep as extraction method. A linear calibration curve was obtained for 0 to 100 mg kg-1 iron within the measured samples. The method proposed here was successfully applied to measure total Fe concentration in oven-dried, milled plant samples. Applicability of the method for tissues other than rice and suboptimal extraction methods are discussed.

Link to full paper here

Thellmann, K., Blagodatsky, S., Häuser, I., Liu, H., Wang, J., Asch, F., Cadisch, G., Cotter, M. 2017
Assessing Ecosystem Services in Rubber Dominated Landscapes in South-East Asia—A Challenge for Biophysical Modeling and Transdisciplinary Valuation. Forests 2017, 8 (12), 505; doi:10.3390/f8120505


The concept of ecosystem services (ESS) has been increasingly recognized for its potential in decision making processes concerning environmental policy. Multidisciplinary projects on rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) cultivation, integrating research on a variety of ESS, have been few and far between. More than three years of iterative workshops with regional stakeholders resulted in the development of future land use scenarios for our study area in Xishuangbanna, PR China. We used the InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Trade-offs) modeling framework to analyze their impact on sediment retention, water yield, habitat quality, and carbon sequestration and developed a model for assessing rubber yields. We investigated the percentage deviations of integrated ESS indices in each scenario, as compared to the initial state of 2015 and as a novelty used different statistical weighting methods to include rankings for the preference of ESS from three contrasting stakeholder groups. The business-as-usual scenario (BAU, continuous rubber expansions) revealed an increase in rubber yields trading off against all other ESS analyzed. Compared to BAU, the measures introduced in the balanced-trade-offs scenario (reforestation, reduced herbicide application, riverine buffer zones, etc.) reduced the total amount of rubber yield but enhanced habitat quality and regulating ESS. The results show that the integrated indices for the provisioning of ESS would be overestimated without the inclusion of the stakeholder groups. We conclude that policy regulations, if properly assessed with spatial models and integrated stakeholder feedback, have the potential to buffer the typical trade-off between agricultural intensification and environmental protection.

link to open access here

Shibabaw, A., Alemayehu, G., Adgo, E., Germer, J., Asch, F., Freyer, B. 2017
Growth and biomass yield response of clover (Trifolium decorum) to preceding crop and organic treatment in the highlands of Awi Administrative Zone, Ethiopia. Ethiopian Journal of Science and Technology 10, 151- 164.


Low soil fertility status is a dominant challenge in Ethiopian agriculture for decades. Organic amendment from different sources could help to rebuild the soil fertility status of the country. Hence, an experiment was conducted to evaluate the outcome of organic treatment and preceding crops on growth and biomass yield of clover. Four levels of organic treatments (V1= 0 t ha-1 FYM; V2 = 5 t ha-1 FYM; V3 = 2.5 t ha-1 FSB and V4 = 5 t ha-1 FYM +2.5 t ha-1 FSB) and two levels of crop rotation patterns (R1 = wheat - clover and R2 = potato-clover) were factorially arranged and laid out in a completely randomized block design (RCBD) with four replications. Plant height, number of tillers plant-1, number of nodules plant-1, root biomass plant-1 and above ground biomass of clover was recorded and analyzed using SAS system. The overall experimental results showed that only the main effect of organic amendment had a significant effect on the growth and biomass yield of clover. The highest total dry biomass (5.6 t ha-1) of clover was recorded at 5 t ha-1 FYM +2.5 t ha-1 FSB. The unfertilized control gave the lowest mean dry biomass (3.06 t ha-1) of clover compared to all other treatments. Thus, 5 t ha-1 FYM +2.5 t ha-1 FSB could be recommended for better biomass yield of clover. The finding could bridge the chronic green manure and livestock feed shortage of the district.

link to full paper here

Cotter, M., Asch F., Hilger T., Rajaona, A., Schappert, A., Stuerz, S., Yang, X. 2017.
Measuring leaf area index in rubber plantations − a challenge. Ecological Indicators 82, 357-366


In order to estimate water use, water requirements and carbon sequestration of tropical plantation systems such as rubber it is adamant to have accurate information on leaf area development of the plantation as the main determinant of evapotranspiration. Literature commonly suggests a number of different methods on how to obtain leaf area index (LAI) information from tree plantation systems. Methods include destructive measurements of leaf area at peak LAI, indirect methods such as gap fraction methods (i.e. Hemiview and LAI 2000) and radiation interception methods (i.e. SunScan) or litter fall traps. Published values for peak LAI in rubber plantation differ widely and show no clear trend to be explained by management practices or the influence of local climate patterns. This study compares four methods for determining LAI of rubber plantations of different ages in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, PR China. We have tested indirect measurement techniques such as light absorption and gap fraction measurements and hemispherical image analysis against litter fall data in order to obtain insights into the reliability of these measuring techniques for the use in tropical tree plantation systems. In addition, we have included data from destructive harvesting as a comparison. The results presented here clearly showed that there was no consistent agreement between the different measurements. Site, time of the day and incoming radiation all had a significant effect on the results depending on the devices used. This leaves us with the conclusion that the integration of published data on LAI in rubber into broad ranging assessments is very difficult to accomplish as the accuracy of the measurements seems to be very sensitive to a number of factors. This diminishes the usefulness of literature data in estimating evapotranspiration from rubber plantations and the induced environmental effects, both on local as well as regional levels.

link to full paper here

Gorim, L., Asch, F. 2017
Seed coating with hydro-absorbers as potential mitigation of early season drought in sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L. Moench). Biology 6, 33; doi:10.3390/biology6030033


Climate change poses a threat to sorghum production systems by shifting the onset of the rainy season to a later date, increasing the risk of crop failure during crop establishment. The effects of drought on sorghum during seedling establishment have not been determined. Coating seeds with a water absorbing substance offers a way to buffer the seed against insufficient moisture in the surrounding soil. Seeds of two different sorghum varieties were coated with one of two commercially available hydro-absorbers: Stokosorb® and Geohumus®. These hydro-absorbers have the capacity to store water several times their own weight. The aim of this study was to compare the effects of the cited hydro-absorbers on early seedling growth of two sorghum landraces under different levels of soil water deficit. Seedlings were grown for 12 days under three water availability levels (Field capacity (FC), 50% of FC, and 25% of FC). The seedlings under water limited treatments were subsequently re-watered. Biomass, root length, plant height, leaf area, and leaf extension rate were monitored in two-day intervals for 24 days. Coating strongly affected seedling growth both under fully watered and water deficit conditions. Sorghum varieties differed in their responses to both soil water deficit and coating materials. In general, Stockosorb improved seedling performance under water limited conditions particularly by promoting root growth, whereas Geohumus did not.

link to the open access paper here

Gorim, L., Asch, F. 2017
Seed coating increases seed moisture uptake and restricts embryonic oxygen availability in germinating cereal seeds. Biology 6, 31; doi:10.3390/biology6020031


Seed coating is a technology to improve germination and homogenize stand establishment. Although coating often results in lower germination rates, seeds that do germinate grow more vigorously and show strongly reduced respiratory losses during reserve mobilization. We hypothesize that the higher mobilization efficiency is due to a shift in the enzymatic cleavage of sucrose from invertase to sucrose synthase in the embryonic tissue caused by a reduced oxygen availability induced by oversaturation with water caused by the coating during early germination. We investigated the effect of coating on barley, rye, and wheat seed imbibition during the first 30 h after seeds were placed in moisture. We profiled oxygen in the embryos and measured sucrose and acid invertase levels as imbibition progressed. We found that seeds within coatings absorbed significantly more moisture than uncoated seeds. Coating resulted in near anoxic oxygen concentrations in the developing embryonic tissues in all three species. In barley, sucrose was not cleaved via the invertase pathway, despite the fact that invertase activity in coated seeds was increased. In rye and wheat, invertase activities were significantly lower in embryos from coated seeds without significantly changing the sugar composition.

link to the open access paper here

Farooq, M., Arshad, S., Asch, F., Krishna, J., Prasad, P.V., Siddique, K. 2017
Thermal stress impacts reproductive development and grain yield in rice. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry 115, 57-72.


Rice is highly sensitive to temperature stress (cold and heat), particularly during the reproductive and grain-filling stages. In this review, we discuss the effects of low- and high-temperature sensitivity in rice at various reproductive stages (from meiosis to grain development) and propose strategies for improving the tolerance of rice to terminal thermal stress. Cold stress impacts reproductive development through (i) delayed heading, due to its effect on anther respiration, which increases sucrose accumulation, protein denaturation and asparagine levels, and decreases proline accumulation, (ii) pollen sterility owing to tapetal hypertrophy and related nutrient imbalances, (iii) reduced activity of cell wall bound invertase in the tapetum of rice anthers, (iv) impaired fertilization due to inhibited anther dehiscence, stigma receptivity and ability of the pollen tube to germinate through the style towards the ovary, and (v) floret sterility, which increases grain abortion, restricts grain size, and thus reduces grain yield. Heat stress affects grain formation and development through (i) poor anther dehiscence due to restricted closure of the locules, leading to reduced pollen dispersal and fewer pollen on the stigma, (ii) changes in pollen proteins resulting in significant reductions in pollen viability and pollen tube growth, leading to spikelet sterility, (iii) delay in heading, (iv) reduced starch biosynthesis in developing grain, which reduces starch accumulation, (v) increased chalkiness of grain with irregular and round-shaped starch granules, and (vi) a shortened grain-filling period resulting in low grain weight. However, physiological and biotechnological tools, along with integrated management and adaptation options, as well as conventional breeding, can help to develop new rice genotypes possessing better grain yield under thermal stress during reproductive and grain-filling phases.

link to the full paper here

Kisambo, B. K., Pfister, J., Schaffert, A., Asch, F. 2016
Leaf area dynamics and aboveground biomass of specific vegetation types of a semi-arid grassland in southern Ethiopia. Tropical and Subtropical Agroecosystems 19, 253-262.


Leaf Area Index (LAI) dynamics and aboveground biomass of a semi-arid grassland region in Southern Ethiopia were determined over a long rain season. The vegetation was categorized into four distinct vegetation types namely Grassland (G), Tree-Grassland (TG), Bushed-Grassland (BG) and Bush-Tree grassland (BT). LAI was measured using a Plant Canopy Analyzer (LAI2000). Biomass dynamics of litter and herbaceous components were determined through clipping while the aboveground biomass of trees and shrubs were estimated using species-specific allometric equations from literature. LAI showed a seasonal increase over the season with the maximum recorded in the BG vegetation (2.52). Total aboveground biomass for the different vegetation types ranged from 0.61 ton C/ha in areas where trees were non-existent to 8.80 ± 3.81ton C/ha in the Tree-Grassland vegetation in the study site. A correlation of LAI and AGB yielded a positive relationship with an R2 value of 0.55. The results demonstrate the importance of tropical semi-arid grasslands as carbon sinks hence their potential in mitigation of climate change.

Kurtz, D. B., Asch, F., Giese, M., Huelsebusch, C., Goldfarb, M. C., Casco, J. F., 2016
High impact grazing as a management tool to optimize biomass growth in northern Argentinean grassland. Ecological Indicators 63, 100-109.


Grasslands are the main source of feed for cattle in Argentina. Standing dead biomass accumulation threatens efficient resource use. The effect and timing of high impact grazing by cattle as a management tool to remove excess standing dead biomass was studied in grasslands of North Eastern Argentina. High impact grazing (HIG) was introduced monthly on adjacent paddocks over the course of the year and its effects were studied for 12 months following the treatment. Dynamics of biomass re-growth and accumulation of green and standing dead biomass were studied. HIG generally improved the green to total biomass ratio and reduced the overall biomass in the paddocks. Strong seasonal dynamics in the biomass growth rates strongly influenced the effects of timing of the HIG. All sub-plots subjected to HIG showed a growth pattern anti-cyclic to control, with an active growth phase during autumn when the biomass in the control sub-plots decreased. Best results in terms of standing dead biomass reduction and dead to green biomass ratios were achieved after HIG in winter. HIG in autumn, however, reduced fodder availability and reduced next year's grassland's productivity. We propose strategically (carefully) timed HIG not only as an alternative method to reduce standing dead biomass, but also as a pathway to sustainable intensification by providing green forage at levels equal or even higher than those achieved under continuous traditional grazing.

Tatar,Ö.,  Brueck, H.,  Asch, F., 2015
Photosynthesis and Remobilization of Dry Matter in Wheat as Affected by Progressive Drought Stress at Stem Elongation Stage, Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science, DOI: 10.1111/jac.12160.

With increasingly erratic rainfall patterns particularly in drought-prone production systems, the capacity of plants to recover productively from drought spells becomes an important feature for yield stability in rainfed agriculture. Consequently, effects of water management at the stem elongation stage on partitioning and remobilization of dry matter, alteration in photosynthesis and water-use efficiency (WUE), and yield components of wheat plants were studied in a glasshouse pot experiment. The plants were subjected to three soil moisture regimes: well watered during all phenological stages (WW), drought affected during stem elongation and post-anthesis stages (DD) and drought affected during stem elongation and rewatered at post-anthesis stage (DW). Total dry weight substantially decreased by both drought treatments. However, DD plants allocated relatively higher assimilates to roots whereas DW plants remobilized them to the grains. Drought applications resulted in a decrease of grain yield and thousand grain weight while reduction was more pronounced in DD treatment. Relative contribution of post-anthesis photosynthesis to dry matter formation in grain was higher in WW treatment (72.6 %) than DD (68.5 %) and DW (68.2 %) treatments. Photosynthetic rate, gas exchange and transpiration decreased whereas leaf (photosynthetic) and plant level WUE increased with drought applications. However, all these parameters were rapidly and completely reversed by rewatering. Our findings showed that partitioning of dry weight to grain increases with rewatering of wheat plants subjected to drought during stem elongation phase, but the relative contributions of remobilization of stem reserves and post-anthesis photosynthesis to grain did not change. Moreover, rewatering of plants at booting stage after a drought period lead to full recovery in photosynthesis and WUE, and a significant although partial recovery of yield components, such as grain yield, TGW and harvest index.

Diabate, B., Gao, Y., Li, Y., Wang, C., Sun, B., Asch, F., Zhou, D., 2015
Associations Between Species Distribution Patterns and Soil Salinity in the Songnen Grassland. Arid Land Research and Management 29, 199-209.

The Songnen grassland is one of the grasslands in China characterized by concentrated heterogeneous patches of saline-alkaline soils. However, our understanding of how these patchy structures develop and how biochemical factors change within patches is limited. Thus, three representative semi-vegetated patches were selected and analyzed for soil electrical conductivity (EC), soil pH, soil organic matter (SOM), and soil nitrogen (N). Based on the different appearance and distribution of species, the patches were divided into a center, middle, and outer section. Our results showed that in contrast to EC, SOM significantly increased from the center to the outer section. Aboveground biomass and species distribution patterns were strongly associated with SOM and contrasted to EC. In the center section, the annual species Kochia scoparia (L.) Schrad represented more than 90% of the total biomass, whereas the perennial species Leymus chinensis (Trin.) Tzvel and Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud were the most dominant species in the outer section with a contribution of more than 90% to the total biomass. In the middle section, most of the species achieved mutual coexistence and the perennial species appeared to benefit from the interspecific relationships with their neighbors. Our results suggest that a feasible means of restoration management for heterogeneous degraded grassland should be achievable through revegetation by species such as L. chinensis and P. australis, which improve soil organic matter and reduce EC.

Gorim, L., Asch F., 2015
Seed coating reduces respiration losses and affects sugar metabolism during germination and early seedling growth in cereals. Functional Plant Biology 42, 209-218.

Seed germination and the successful establishment of young seedlings is an important aspect of plant life. Seed coats are used to improve stand establishment and early seedling vigour. Seedlings growing from hydro-absorber coated barley, rye and wheat with coat-shares greater than 75% of the average seed have been shown to promote better seedling growth compared with those seedlings growing from uncoated seeds. We investigated how and why these seedlings performed better by analysing the proportion of grain reserves mobilised for growth and respiration as well as how both sucrose and glucose available in the embryo translated into seedling growth in the presence or absence of seed coats containing hydro-absorber gel. We found that mobilisation efficiency was higher, resulting in higher biomass in these cereals when they were coated. The relationship between sucrose and glucose available to the seedling as well as its correlation with early seedling growth indicate a switch in the enzymatic cleavage of embryonic sucrose from invertase to sucrose synthase. This in turn indicates that in coated seeds, embryonic tissue must be hypoxic leading to a more efficient use of glucose and thus reduced respiration losses during germination.

Kurgat, B. K., Golicha, D., Giese, M., Kuria, S. G., Asch, F. 2014
Relationship between vegetation cover types and soil organic carbon in the rangelands of Northern Kenya. Livestock Research for Rural Development. Volume 26 (9), Article #162.

Climate Change affect various sectors in Kenya, with the most vulnerable being agriculture, livestock, water, health, fisheries and tourism. Accurate estimates of soil organic carbon stocks (SOCS) in the rangelands are critical in developing strategies to help mitigate impacts of climate change. The study therefore, sought to establish the relationship between vegetation cover types and SOCS in northern rangelands of Kenya as an indirect method of estimating SOCS in the field. Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper satellite image was used to differentiate vegetation cover types and soil samples taken along the transect line laid at intervals of 50 m across each vegetation cover type. Colourimetric and core sampling methods were used to determine SOC concentrations and soil bulk densities, respectively. Analysis of variance and simple linear regression were used in the statistical analysis. Four vegetation cover types indentified were: Acacia bush land (ABL), bare land (BRL), sparsely distributed acacia with bare ground (SAB) and sparsely distributed acacia with forbs (SAF) and. The means of SOC for each vegetation cover were different. However, soil bulk densities under BRL and SAB were similar but different from that of ABL and SAF that were alike. Further, overall mean of SOCS was 6.76±2.85 t C ha-1 for all the vegetation cover types. A positive relationship was established between the average mean values of both Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and Soil Adjusted Vegetation Index (SAVI) when regressed with the average mean values of SOCS. The findings suggest that vegetation indices measured with GIS are good predictors of SOCS for the study region, with the potential for extrapolation to the arid and semi-arid areas to which this ecosystem belongs. 
- Full paper here -

Stuerz, S., Sow, A., Muller, B., Manneh, B., Asch, F., 2014
Leaf area development in response to meristem temperature and irrigation
system in lowland rice. Field Crops Research 163, 74-80.

Growth and grain yield reductions have been widely observed when traditionally flooded rice fields were subjected to water-saving irrigation measures, where a continuous floodwater layer is avoided. These observations led to the perception of rice being a plant extremely sensitive to water stress even when grown in soils where water is sufficiently available. Since the rice plant's meristem is below the water surface during the vegetative stage in flooded fields, the difference in heat capacity between water and air will lead to changes in meristem temperature, when a ponded water layer is omitted. Therefore, the objective of this study was to investigate leaf area development in response to meristem temperature under flooded and non-flooded conditions in the field. In Ndiaye, located in the Senegal River valley, a lowland rice variety (IR64) was sown on 13 staggered dates between July 2008 and June 2010. In a flooded treatment (FL), a continuous water layer was maintained, whereas in a non-flooded treatment (NF), irrigation water was applied until soil saturation every 2 or 3 days. Temperature at the soil surface as well as leaf area and tiller number were recorded. In most cases, leaf area was reduced under non-flooded conditions. Leaf area expansion rate was correlated with meristem temperature during the night. With temperature at the soil surface being lower under non-flooded conditions, lower leaf area expansion rates under non-flooded conditions could be attributed to lower meristem temperature. The omission of a floodwater layer can expose the rice plant's meristems to larger temperature extremes and thus affect plant growth. In environments with large temperature amplitudes, this effect should be considered when water-saving measures are applied in lowland rice fields.

Stuerz, S., Sow, A., Muller, B., Manneh, B., Asch, F., 2014
Canopy microclimate and gas-exchange in response to irrigation
system in lowland rice in the Sahel. Field Crops Research 163, 64-73.

In lowland rice production, water-saving irrigation technologies have been developed, but it has rarely been considered that the absence of a ponded water layer could change the field's microclimate due to the different thermal characteristics of water compared to air. At a site in the Senegal River valley, canopy and soil temperature as well as temperature at meristem level and relative humidity inside the canopy were observed in the presence and absence of a ponded water layer in an irrigated rice field. Gas-exchange measurements were conducted at different development stages of three varieties (IR4630, IR64, and Sahel108) sown in bi-monthly intervals and the effects of climatic and microclimatic parameters on stomatal conductance, assimilation rate, and intrinsic water use efficiency were investigated. Minimum soil (Tsmin) and meristem temperature (TMmin) were usually lower in the absence of a ponded water layer. Stomatal conductance depended mainly on Tsmin, TMmin, and minimum relative humidity inside the canopy. Assimilation rate was positively correlated with solar radiation, Tsmin and TMmin, but depended mainly on stomatal conductance. Without standing water, stomatal conductance was significantly lower, but reductions could be explained with lower Tsmin and/or TMmin. Nevertheless, Tsmin and/or TMmin were the major determinants of stomatal conductance and assimilation rate, which suggests a pivotal role of root zone temperature on plant growth probably via water uptake and, thus, overall plant water status. Varietal differences were found, with assimilation rate in IR4630 and Sahel108 having been less affected by low temperature than in IR64. When water-saving irrigation measures are applied in irrigated rice, the negative effects of lower soil and meristem temperature in the absence of a ponded water layer in the field on the productivity of rice need to be considered. In regions where night temperatures below 20°C occur, varieties should be used that are less temperature-responsive, if the effect of cool nights on meristem temperature cannot be mitigated by a ponded water layer.

Stuerz, S., Sow, A., Muller, B., Manneh, B., Asch, F., 2014
Yield components in response to thermal environment and irrigatio
n system in lowland rice in the Sahel. Field Crops Research 163, 47-54.

Yield reductions have been widely observed under water-saving irrigation in lowland rice. The yield gap has been related to decreases in the number of spikelets per panicle and decreased spikelet fertility. Since these yield components highly depend on the thermal environment of the meristem which is subjected to changes when a ponded water layer is omitted, the impact of irrigation system on yield components needs to be studied under consideration of temperature at meristem level. Therefore, the objective of this study was to analyze yield and yield components of irrigated rice grown with and without a ponded water layer under consideration of effects of irrigation system on meristem temperature under field conditions. Field trials were conducted on two sites in Senegal, where rice was grown under flooded and non-flooded conditions with six staggered sowing dates between August 2009 and June 2010. Temperature was measured at meristem level and related to leaf area, yield and yield components of three different varieties (i.e. IR64, Sahel202 and N22). Yield reductions under non-flooded conditions were mainly observed in the cold-dry season, whereas slight yield increase were found in the hot-wet season. Among the yield components, reduced number of spikelets per panicle and spikelet fertility accounted for the largest share of the yield gap. Meristem temperature during the night was always lower under non-flooded conditions and the temperature difference between irrigation treatments increased during the cold-dry season. Leaf area per tiller was linearly related to meristem temperature in the observed temperature range, and a linear relationship was found between leaf area per tiller and the number of spikelets per panicle. Furthermore, spikelet fertility increased with meristem temperature between panicle initiation and booting stage. Therefore, lower meristem temperature led to smaller leaf area per tiller, less spikelets per panicle and decreased fertility under non-flooded conditions. Without standing water, the rice plant's meristem will be exposed to lower temperatures during night, which can lead to significant yield reductions in areas where cool nights occur.

Graef, F., Sieber, S., Mutabazi, K., Asch, F., Biesalski, H.K., Bitegeko, J., Bokelmann, W., Bruentrup, M., Dietrich, O., Elly, N., Fasse, A., Germer, J., Grote, U., Herrmann, L. et al. 2014.
Framework for participatory food security research in rural food value chains. Global Food Security 3, 8-15.

Enhancing food security for poor and vulnerable people requires adapting rural food systems to various driving factors. Food security-related research should apply participatory action research that considers the entire food value chain to ensure sustained success. This article presents a research framework that focusses on determining, prioritising, testing, adapting and disseminating food securing upgrading strategies across the multiple components of rural food value chains. These include natural resources, food production, processing, markets, consumption and waste management. Scientists and policy makers jointly use tools developed for assessing potentials for enhancing regional food security at multiple spatial and temporal scales. The research is being conducted in Tanzania as a case study for Sub-Saharan countries and is done in close collaboration with local, regional and national stakeholders, encompassing all activities across all different food sectors.

Shibabaw, A., Alemayehu, G., Desalegn, Y., Adgo, E., Tewodros, Y., Germer, J., Asch, F. Merene, Y., Freyer, B. 2014
Exploratory survey on climate change effects, value chain processes and supportive services: Case study from Potato based farming systems of AWI-Zone, Ethiopia. International Journal of Agriculture Innovations and Research 2 (4), 615-621.

Exploratory field survey was conducted with the objective of to understand climate change effects, potato value chain actors, processes, activities and supportive services providers in 2013, Awi-Zone, Ethiopia. Expert and key informant interviews, focused group discussions and review of literature were used as study methodology. A total of 51 value chain actors composing farmers, traders, processors consumers and supportive service providers were involved. The survey result indicates that climate change affects the whole value chain of potato. Drought and erratic, delay and early cessation of rain- fall, heat wave, strong winds, and more flood and night frost were the observed effects of climate change in the study area. Heavy flood impeded input supply and transport services to farmers by damaging roads, while delayed and erratic rain fall reduced the yield of potato and enhanced more diseases and insect pest pressure, which in turn resulted in inconsistent supply of produce to the traders. Consumers were also affected by inconsistent potato market supply. Moreover, poor linkage among value chain actors and support service providers contributed for inadequate action on the use of adaptive measures. The sub sector in general faces a number of structural and technological challenges that need immediate attention to improve potato sector development. Hence, vertical and horizontal integration will be required among value chain actors, supportive service providers and private investors to enhance the sector.

Diwani, T.N., Asch, F., Becker, M., Mussgnug, F. 2013
Characterizing farming systems around Kakamega Forest, Western Kenya, for targeting soil fertility-enhancing technologies. Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science, in press.

Kakamega district in Western Kenya represents the smallholder farming systems typical for much of the densely populated humid highlands in East Africa. A specific feature, however, is the presence of a protected forest reserve (Kakamega Forest National Park), covering some 20% of the district area. Year-round crop production with little use of external inputs is resulting in declining soil fertility and crop yields. Technologies to counteract fertility constraints are rarely implemented, as they do not consider system diversity or farm-specific characteristics. We surmised that farm type-specific targeting of technology options to address soil fertility-related production constraints would reduce the anthropogenic pressure on the resources of the adjacent Kakamega rainforest reserve. Based on Kenyan national census data, we selected 168 farms in physical proximity of the Kakamega forest and characterized them regarding production system and soil attributes. Cluster and principal component analyses identified five distinct farm categories. Three representative farms from each cluster group were subsequently selected to establish labor-use patterns, draw resource-flow maps, and determine NPK balances. Small subsistence-oriented farms were most common (> 50%), with maize yields of 0.9 t ha-1 (cluster 1). Most farmers relied on the forest to provide fire wood, animal feed, and medicinal plants. Mixed farms, combining subsistence maize with industrial crops, were differentiated by soil type, with tea being grown on Ferralsol (cluster 3), and sugar cane being grown on Acrisol (cluster 4). The dependence on forest resources was limited to animal grazing and the collection of feed stuff (cluster 3), or the extraction of medicinal plants (cluster 4). Only few farms showed a high degree of market orientation of the food-crop production. These comprised either small farms with high investments in fertilizer and maize yields close to 2 t ha-1 (cluster 2), or larger farms (1.6-3.9 ha) with low fertilizer but high hired-labor use (cluster 5). Their reliance on forest resources was generally low. Resource flows showed mainly patterns of nutrient export in subsistence farms, and more complex flow patterns, involving several farm compartments, in the diversified farms. Partial nutrient balances were strongly negative for N and K, irrespective of soil or farm type. Soil-fertility characteristics reflected the nutrient balances with generally low C and N in all farms on Acrisol, and low P in farms not applying mineral fertilizers or farmyard manure. The proposed typology is expected to improve the targeting of technologies addressing soil fertility-related production constraints, and to reduce the pressure on forest resources. This is of particular importance in the case of small-scale subsistence and mixed farms close to the forest margin.

Shrestha, S., Asch, F., Brueck, H., Giese, M., Dusserre, J., Ramanantsoanirina, A. 2013
Phenological responses of upland rice grown along an altitudinal gradient. Environmental and Experimental Botany 89 , pp. 1-10

High altitude upland rice (Oryza sativa L.) production systems are expected to benefit from climate change induced increase in temperatures. The potential yield of rice genotypes is governed by the thermal environment experienced during crop development phases when yield components are determined. Thus, knowledge on genotypic variability in phenotypic responses to variable temperature is required for assessing the adaptability of rice production to changing climate. Although, several crop models are available for this task, genotypic thermal constants used to simulate crop phenology vary strongly among the models and are under debate. Therefore, we conducted field trials with ten contrasting upland rice (O. sativa L.) genotypes on three locations along an altitudinal gradient with five monthly staggered sowing dates for two years in Madagascar with the aim to study phenological responses at different temperature regimes. We found that, crop duration is equally influenced by genotype selection, sowing date and year in the high altitude. In contrast, in mid altitudes genotype has no effect on crop duration. At low altitudes crop duration is more affected by sowing date. Grain yield is strongly affected by low temperatures at high altitudes and severly influenced by frequent tropical cyclones at low altitudes. In high altitude, genotype explained 68% of variation in spikelet sterility, whereas in mid and low altitudes environment explained more than 70% of the variation. The phenological responses determining crop duration and yield, the basic genotypic thermal constants, and the analyses of genotypic thermal responses with regard to spikelet sterility reported here, provide valuable information for the improvement of rice phenological models urgently needed to develop new genotypes and better adapted cropping calendars.

Rajaona, A.M., Brueck, H., Asch, F., 2013
Leaf gas exchange characteristics of Jatropha as affected by nitrogen supply, leaf age, and atmospheric vapour pressure deficit. Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science 199, 144-153.

Facing a steadily increasing world energy demand, jatropha, among other energy crops, has been reported to potentially contribute to biofuel production. A basic characterisation of plant responses to abiotic environmental factors is important for assessing the model-assisted potential of this plant in view of the many agro-ecological zones in which jatropha is presently cultivated. Two pot experiments and two field studies were used to record gas exchange parameters in response to light, nitrogen supply, atmospheric vapour pressure deficit (VPD), leaf age and time of measurements. Variation of N supply from 0 to 16 mm resulted in lower rates of photosynthesis (A) and stomatal conductance (gs) of treatment 0 mm N compared with other N levels, whereas the light compensation point (IC), quantum yield (QY) and dark respiration rates (Rd) were similar in all treatments. In the field, diurnal effects were evident with higher light-saturated photosynthetic rate (Amax) and QY and lower IC and Rd in the morning than in the afternoon. Considering leaf age effects, fully expanded leaves had a lower Amax compared with expanding leaves and this variation in leaf gas exchange was not related to changes in the chlorophyll index value (SPAD) which steadily increased with leaf age. QY of field and greenhouse plants varied from 0.023 to 0.037 and was substantially lower than in C3 plants. A was positively correlated with gs in a hyperbolic function. A varied from 0.64 to 21.13 μmol m−2 s−1 and gs varied from 12 to 469 mmol m−2 s−1. With increasing VPD, gs decreased, but this response differed between the field experiments and the two pot experiments which contrasted each other distinctively. Applying the inverse logistic function of Webb (Ecological Modeling, 56 (1991), 81), the maximal stomatal conductance of jatropha was in the range of 382 mmol m−2 s−1 and gs is predicted to be close to zero at 5 kPa. These data altogether indicate that light absorption characteristics of single leaves and carbohydrate status parameters should be investigated further to explain the low QY and the pronounced diurnal variation.

Engel, K., Asch, F., Becker, M., 2012.
Classification of rice genotypes based on their mechanisms of adaptation to iron toxicity. Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science 175, 871-881

Iron (Fe) toxicity is a nutritional disorder that affects lowland rice (Oryza sativa L.). The occurrence of excessive amounts of reduced Fe(II) in the soil solution, its uptake by the rice roots, and its transpiration-driven transport result in elevated Fe(II) concentrations in leaf cells that catalyze the formation of reactive oxygen species. The oxidative stress causes rusty brown spots on leaves (bronzing) and the reduction of biomass and yield. While the use of resistant genotypes is the most promising approach to address the problem, the stress appears to differentially affect rice plants as a function of plant age, climatic conditions, stress intensity and duration, and the prevailing adaptation mechanism. We comparatively assessed 21 contrasting 6-week-old rice genotypes regarding their response (symptom score, biomass, Fe concentrations and uptake) to a 6 d iron pulse of 1500 mg L-1 Fe(II). Eight selected genotypes were further compared at different stress intensities (0, 500, 1000, and 1500 mg L-1 Fe(II)) and at different developmental stages (4-, 6-, and 8-week-old plants). Based on Fe-induced biomass reduction and leaf-bronzing score, the tested spectrum was grouped in resistant and sensitive genotypes. Linking bronzing scores to leaf iron concentrations allowed further differentiation into includer and excluder types. Iron precipitation on roots and organ-specific iron partitioning permitted to classify the adaptation strategies into root exclusion, stem and leaf sheath retention, and leaf blade tissue tolerance. The effectiveness of these strategies differed with stress intensity and developmental stage. The reported findings improve the understanding of Fe-stress response and provide a basis for future genotype selection or breeding for enhancing Fe-toxicity resistance in rice.

Rajaona, A.M.; Sutterer, N.; Asch, F., 2012
Potential of Waste Water Use for Jatropha Cultivation in Arid Environments. Agriculture 2012, 2, 376-392.

Water is crucial for socio-economic development and healthy ecosystems. With the actual population growth and in view of future water scarcity, development calls for improved sectorial allocation of groundwater and surface water for domestic, agricultural and industrial use. Instead of intensifying the pressure on water resources, leading to conflicts among users and excessive pressure on the environment, sewage effluents, after pre-treatment, provide an alternative nutrient-rich water source for agriculture in the vicinity of cities. Water scarcity often occurs in arid and semiarid regions affected by droughts and large climate variability and where the choice of crop to be grown is limited by the environmental factors. Jatropha has been introduced as a potential renewable energy resource since it is claimed to be drought resistant and can be grown on marginal sites. Sewage effluents provide a source for water and nutrients for cultivating jatropha, a combined plant production/effluent treatment system. Nevertheless, use of sewage effluents for irrigation in arid climates carries the risk of salinization. Thus, potential irrigation with sewage effluents needs to consider both the water requirement of the crop and those needed for controlling salinity build-up in the top soil. Using data from a case study in Southern Morocco, irrigation requirements were calculated using CROPWAT 8.0. We present here crop evapotranspiration during the growing period, required irrigation, the resulting nutrient input and the related risk of salinization from the irrigation of jatropha with sewage effluent.
- full Paper here -

Rajaona, A.M., Brueck, H., Seckinger, C., Asch, F., 2012
Effect of salinity on canopy water vapor conductance of young and 3-year old Jatropha curcas L. Journal of Arid Environments 87, 35-41

With increasing demand for biofuels, jatropha is considered as one of the biofuel crops, which is suitable for growth under adverse conditions including drought and salinity which mainly occur in arid and semiarid environment. We report here to what extent salt stress affected water loss, canopy water vapor conductance, leaf growth and Na and K concentrations of leaves of 3-year old and young plants. Adult (on peat substrate) and young (in hydroponic system) plants were exposed to seven (0-300 mmol NaCl L-1) and five salt levels (0-200 mmol NaCl L-1), during 20 and 6 days, respectively.
In both experiments, plants responded rapidly to salt stress by reducing water loss. The threshold value of responses was between 0 and 5 dS m-1. Leaf area increment of young jatropha had a threshold value of 5 dS m-1 implying that jatropha responds sensitive to external salt application in term of canopy development, conductance and CO2 assimilation rate. The rapid decrease of canopy conductance indicates that jatropha is effectively protecting leaves from massive Na import into leaves over short time periods. Our data indicate that use of wastewater in (semi-)arid areas should be carefully considered if high productivity is the key of plantation management.

Shrestha, S., Asch, F., Dusserre, J., Ramanantsoanirina, A., Brueck, H. 2012.
Climate effects on yield components as affected by genotypic responses to variable environmental conditions in upland rice systems at different altitudes. Field Crops Research 134 , pp. 216-228

Grain yield in any given environment is determined by yield components developed at different phenophases. Yield components are influenced by the environmental conditions the plant experiences during the respective phases. The final yield of a given cultivar depends on the interaction between genotype and its responses to environmental conditions. Hence, it is necessary to evaluate the plasticity in yield components formation while selecting genotype for a given environment. For this, we conducted field trials comprising 10 upland rice genotypes representing a large share of genetic variation, with two sowing dates in two consecutive years in three altitudinal locations creating 12 environments in Madagascar. Crop duration, grain yield and yield components (tillers per hill, panicles per tiller, grains per panicle, sterility, grain weight) were strongly affected by sowing dates, location, year and genotypes. Sowing date and years resulted in comparatively more variable environments in high and low altitudes than in mid altitude. Yield stability across environments reflected the target environments the genotypes were originally selected for. Variation in grain yield among planting dates within altitudes was not mainly due to temperature but rather to the combinations of abiotic factors the genotypes experienced during the different phenological stages during which the different yield components were formed. Yield components and their contribution to environmentally induced yield penalties were analyzed in detail. The contribution of individual yield components to final yield changed with the environmental conditions the rice experienced during the development stages. This effect may have a stronger influence on final yield than the genetic control of the individual yield components. New combinations of traits are required to better exploit the environmental potential which may only be possible via advanced crop models simulating the environmental effects on yield components and their interdependencies to develop ideotypes for the target environments thus guiding breeding and selection efforts.

Engel, K., Asch, F., Becker, M. 2012.
In-vivo staining of reduced iron by 2,2 bipyridine in rice exposed to iron toxicity. Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science 175, 548-552

Screening of rice for genotype-specific tolerance mechanisms to conditions of iron toxicity is hampered by the fact that traditional methods of analysis cannot differentiate between the potentially toxic reduced Fe(II) and the oxidized Fe(III) forms of iron in plants. We propose a protocol for a novel method to visualize Fe(II) in rice tissues. The method is based on the selective formation of a purple-red colour complex between 2,2’ bipyridine and Fe(II). Three contrasting 42 day-old rice genotypes with known responses to iron toxicity conditions were exposed to 18 mM Fe(II) (1000 mg Fe(II) L-1) in nutrient solution for two days. Root systems of intact plants were subsequently placed in 2,2’ bipyridine solutions of 2.5, 5.0 and 10 mM for 3, 6, 12 and 24 hours. Roots, leaf sheaths and leaf blades were assessed for the formation of the [Fe(bipy)3 2+] colour complex using bifocal microscopy. The best visual differentiation of resistant excluder, tolerant includer and sensitive genotypes was obtained when root systems were incubated in 5 mM bipyridine for 6 hours. The exclusion of iron in the rhizosphere resulted in a weak colour expression in the xylem vessels of the resistant genotype Pokkali. In the tolerant includer genotype CK73, the staining of xylem vessels corresponded to 0.9-1.8 mM Fe(II) in roots and leaf sheaths and of >0.08 mM Fe(II) in the leaf blades. The sensitive genotype Nipponbare exhibited a dark purple staining in all xylem vessels, which was associated with the expression of intense leaf bronzing symptoms. The method could improve the selection of candidate genotypes in view of accelerating the breeding for iron toxicity tolerance in rice.

Shrestha, S., Brueck, H., Asch, F. 2012.
Chlorophyll Index, Photochemical Reflectance Index and Chlorophyll Fluorescence Measurements of Rice Leaves Supplied with Different N Levels. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2012.04.008
, Volume 113, 7–13

Rapid and non-destructive diagnosis of plant N status is highly required in order to optimise N fertilizer management and use-efficiency. Additionally to handheld devices for measurements of chlorophyll indices (e.g., SPAD meter) parameters of canopy reflectance via remote sensing approaches are intensively investigated and the photochemical reflectance index (PRI) appears to be a reliable indicator for changes of the epoxidation state of xanthophyll cycle pigments. In order to assess the suitability of a handheld PRI as an additional tool for N diagnosis, rice plants were grown in a nutrient solution experiment with seven N-supply levels (0.18 to 5.71 mM) and CI (SPAD) and PRI values and chlorophyll fluorescence parameters measured 20 and 28 days after onset of treatments. N-supply had effects on both CI (SPAD) and PRI values with a more reliable differentiation between levels. Maximum quantum yield of PSII (Fv/Fm), actual efficiency of PSII photochemistry (ФPSII) and regulated non-photochemical quenching (ФNPQ) did not differ significantly between N levels. Non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) and fast- relaxing NPQ (NPQF) were significantly affected by N-supply. NPQ and NPQF, but not the slow-relaxing component (NPQS), were correlated with CI (SPAD) and PRI values. This finding which has not been reported for N-supply effects so far is indirect evidence that low N-supply induced xanthophyll cycle activity and that PRI values are able to indicate this at least in plants subject to severe N deficiency.

Abdulai, A. L., Kouressy, M., Vaksmann, M., Brueck, H., Asch, F., Giese, M. 2012.
Latitude and Date of Sowing Influences Phenology of Photoperiod-Sensitive Sorghums. Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science 198, 340-348

Matching phenology with favourable abiotic and biotic conditions is a prerequisite for good varietal adaptation. That is particularly important in the context of climate change because an increase in temperature is most likely to modify the precocity of the varieties. The forecast of the phenology of short-day cereals is complex because flowering depends on both temperature and day length. The effects of photoperiod and temperature can be studied by trials in a phytotron, but, high cost prohibit the use of this technique where large numbers of varieties are handled. The day length varies with latitude. Multi-location field trials can be employed for creating a range of environments, but in this type of trials, the great variability of the environments (mainly photoperiod x temperature interaction) often masks the photoperiodic effect. The maturity of the photoperiodic varieties varies according to the sowing date. Trials involving several sowing dates facilitate the study of the effect of small variations of photoperiod on phenology. The objectives of this work are to compare these two last approaches by precisely measuring the effect of the latitude on the development of selected varieties of sorghum sown at staggered planting dates and to verify the precision of our models to predict sorghum maturity. A field experiment in Mali was conducted at the experimental sites of Cinzana (13°15' N), Sotuba (12°39' N) and Farako (11°13' N) in 2009 and 2010. Seven sorghum cultivars representing the diversity of cultivated sorghum in Mali were sown on the 10th of June, July and August each year. The duration of the vegetative phase strongly decreased with the latitude. Although the maximum day-length difference between Cinzana and Farako is less than 8 minutes, for some varieties we observed a reduction in crop duration up to 3 weeks. Some varieties are not photoperiod sensitive in Farako and become photoperiodic in Cinzana. The effect of latitude on the phenology is underestimated by the existing models. To determine the optimal areas for the varieties in West Africa and to forecast the effects of climate change, a correction of the simulation coefficients to take account of latitude is proposed. But, in the end, it will be necessary to develop a new model that will be able to predict the effects of both, sowing date and latitude. More research is needed to understand physiological response mechanisms of the pronounced latitude effects on sorghum phenology.

Abdulai, A.L. Parzies, H., Kouressy, M., Vaksmann, M., Asch, F., Brueck, H., 2012
Yield stability of photoperiod-sensitive sorghum [Sorghum bicolor L. (Moench)] accessions under diverse climatic environments. International Journal of Agricultural Research, 7, 17-32.

Climate variability is a characteristic feature of the Tropics where the summer monsoon starts from MaylJune and ends mostly in October, thus producing an unpredictably variable length of growing season. This results in serious challenges for the mainly subsistent small holder farmers in the arid to semi-arid zones of the Tropics. A study was conducted to determine the attainable grain yield and yield stability of 10 well characterized and extensively cultivated tropical sorghum accessions across 18 environments comprised of 3 dates of sowing at 3 sites (along a latitudinal gradient covering 3 agro-ecolopcal zones) over 2 years in Mali. For each year and site combination, sorghum accessions and dates of sowing were arranged in a split plot and tested in a Randomized Complete Block (RCB) design. Appropriate cultural practices and timing were used to minimize effects of biotic factors. In addition to grain yield, yield penalty associated with delayed sowing was determined. Two static and five dynamic indices were used to assess the stability of grain yield for genotypes across environments. Mean grain yield ranged from 0 to 248 g m-2 across environments, from 74 to 208 g m-2 across the 10 genotypes and generally reduced with delayed sowing. A genotype combining photoperiod sensitivity and stay-green traits was revealed as the most stable. The similarities and differences were observed among the stability indices used in terms of ranking of the genotypes. Implications of these for adaptation to climate change are discussed.

Rajaona, A.M., Brueck, H., Asch, F. 2011
Effect of pruning history on growth and dry mass partitioning of Jatropha curcas L. on a plantation site in Madagascar. Biomass and Bioenergy 35, 4892-4900.

While technical aspects of oil processing of seeds of jatropha are under intensive investigation, comparably little is known about the performance of jatropha in the field. We investigated the effects of water availability (rainfed versus irrigated) and pruning-induced differences in plant stature on growth, biomass partitioning, and canopy size at a plantation site in Madagascar in 2010. Plants of different pruning types differed in trunk height (43 versus 29 cm) and primary branches total length (171 versus 310 cm). The two pruning types had effects on dry mass formation and leaf area projection (LAP) during the vegetation period. Trees which had a shorter trunk and longer lateral branches produced more biomass and had a higher LAP. Total dry mass formation varied from 489 to 912 g m−2 and LAP from 3.26 to 7.37. Total aboveground biomass increased from 2.3 ± 0.5 to 4.89 ± 1.4 kg tree−1 and from 4.6 ± 1.8 to 8.9 ± 1.0 kg tree−1 for the pruning types with shorter and longer lateral branches, respectively. Growth of twigs and leaves was positively correlated with total length of branches. Relative dry mass allocation to branches, twigs and leaves, length of twigs per cm of branches and specific leaf area (13.57 ± 0.72 m2 kg−1) were not affected by pruning and water supply. Trees with shorter branches had higher LAD. Results indicate that pruning type should be considered as a management tool to optimize biomass production. Detailed studies on effects of canopy size and shape on radiation interception and growth are required to improve the productivity of jatropha.
Full paper here

Asch, F., Brueck, H. 2011
Rice crop innovations and natural-resource management — A glimpse into the future. Africa Rice Congress, Bamako 2010 – Proceedings –

Rice is and will be the major global food crop. Cultivars, rice-based cropping systems and the rice itself will have to undergo adaptations and improvements in order to meet future demands for both food security of the growing population and environmental conservation. Growing more food will increase the pressure on natural resources such as land, water and nutrients, which must be used efficiently and sustainably. The challenge posed by imminent climate change forces the speeding-up of the innovation process, which will require collaboration by a large number of scientific disciplines and stakeholders. Rice’s path into the future will have to follow several parallel lanes. On one hand, we cannot slacken our efforts to improve existing cropping-systems management to decrease the gap between potential and current productivity. On the other hand, we need to increase our knowledge base of the genomic, proteomic and metabolic make-up of rice to pave the way for future innovations through genetic-engineering based on in-depth knowledge of physiological processes. A third highly important approach is to maximize productivity in clearly defined high-input environments, such as irrigated rice and intensive rainfed production, using a strong systems approach. Another parallel approach must focus on the low-intensity production systems and those environments most vulnerable to changes in climate. Here, in contrast to the intensive systems, genotypic elasticity and region-specific management options need to be exploited to ensure a secure level of production in highly variable environments and those undergoing transition. Finally, existing networks addressing some or all of these options should be more tightly knit to increase information flow among, and the innovative power of, the scientists involved. This includes a strong focus on scientific capacity-building through North–South collaboration in research and education, with a strong role of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research in streamlining the combined efforts.
Full paper here

Gorim, L., Asch F., 2011
Effects of composition and share of seed coatings on the mobilisation efficiency of cereal seeds during germination. Journal of Agronomy and Crops Science - DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-037X.2011.00490.x.

Cereal production systems are increasingly threatened by suboptimal water supply or intermittent drought spells early in the planting season. Seed coated with hydrophilic materials or hydro-absorbers that increase the amount of water available for germination and seedling development is a promising approach to improving stand establishment under changing conditions. Barley, rye and wheat grains with combinations of hydro-absorber, humic acid and Biplantol® in different shares of the total seed mass were germinated in plates at 25 °C on moist filter paper. Germination rates, resource partitioning and mobilization efficiency were assessed and compared with those of uncoated seeds. Results show a strong influence of coat thickness and composition on the germination rate and the efficiency of mobilization of carbohydrates stored in the endosperm. In general, coating significantly reduced germination rate and total germination as compared to uncoated seeds in all cereals tested. Differences in coating thickness had a distinct effect on germination rate for most combinations of coatings and species. Germination rates increased with increasing coat size. This effect was most pronounced for coatings containing hydro-absorbers and least pronounced for coatings containing humic acid or Biplantol®. Coating generally increased the amount of carbohydrates partitioned to the roots, and thick coating increased the efficiency of grain reserve mobilization compared with the uncoated seeds. Differences between species and the implications for coating-related changes in germination metabolism are discussed.
Link to full paper online

Germer, J., Sauerborn, J., Asch, F., de Boer, J., Schreiber, J., Weber, G., Müller, J., 2011
Skyfarming an ecological innovation to enhance global food security. Journal für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit - DOI 10.1007 /s00003-011-0691-6

Population growth increases the demand for food and thus leads to expansion of cultivated land and intensification of agricultural production. There is a definite limit to both of these options for food security and their multiple negative effects on the environment undermine the aim for sustainability. Presently the impact of the Green Revolution on crop production is levelling off at high yields attained and even the potential of large scale irrigation programmes and transgenic crops seem to be limited in view of the expected increase in demand for food. Moreover, climate change threatens to affect agricultural production across the globe.
Skyfarming represents a promising approach for food production that is largely environment independent and therefore immune to climate change. Optimal growing conditions, shielded from weather extremes and pests are aimed at raising plant production towards the physiological potential. Selecting rice as a pioneer crop for Skyfarming will not only provide a staple for a large part of the global population, but also significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emission caused by paddy cultivation. Multiplication of the benefits could be achieved by stacking production floors vertically.
In Skyfarming the crop, with its requirements for optimal growth, development and production, determines the system's design. Accordingly, the initial development must focus on the growing environment, lighting, temperature, humidity regulation and plant protection strategies as well as on the overall energy supply. For each of these areas potentially suitable technologies are presented and discussed. Paper here online

Shrestha, S., Asch, F., Dingkuhn, M., Becker, M., 2011.
Cropping calendar options for rice – wheat production systems at high-altitudes. Field Crops Research 121, 158-167

The onset of rains during dry to wet transition fallow periods in rice-wheat production systems in Nepal cause substantial losses of soil nitrogen if the system is improperly managed. To make use of available nutrients and water, this transition period can either be shortened by early rice planting, or extended by late planting, allowing a third crop to be grown. Shifting planting dates would require rice genotypes adapted to the different environment. Crop duration is influenced by both vegetative and reproductive development, which in turn is influenced by the photothermal environment and genotypic responses to it. An experiment was conducted to derive genotypic photo-thermal constants from phenological observations on diverse rice cultivars, which were then applied to the concept of the phenological model RIDEV to design cropping calendar options. Environmental effects on variation of crop duration were determined by planting at different dates. The risk of yield losses to sterility caused by low temperatures was estimated by simulation. Thirty-one different genotypes of rice were planted at 8 dates in 15-day intervals starting 27 April 2004 at the experimental field of the Regional Agriculture Research Station, Lumle, Nepal. The shortest duration to flowering was observed for planting dates in late May and early June. Simulation of flowering dates with RIDEV yielded correct results only for the early planting dates. For later planting dates simulated flowering dates showed an increasing deviation from the observed. In most cultivars, minimum air temperature below 18°C during booting to heading stages caused near-total spikelet sterility and a specific delay in flowering. However, the chilling tolerant cultivars Chomrong and Machhapuchre-3 cultivated at high altitude showed less than 30% spikelet sterility even at 15°C. Simulating crop durations with the derived thermal constants allowed evaluating the different calendar options for high altitude systems.

Tatar, Ö., Brueck, H., Gevrek, M.H., Asch, F., 2010.
Physiological responses of two Turkish rice (Oryza sativa L.) varieties to salinity. Turkish Journal of Agriculture and Forestry 34 (6), 451-459

Effects of salinity (60 mM NaCl) on two Turkish rice varieties (Kıral and Yavuz) were studied in comparison to two international check varieties (IR4630-22-2 tolerant and IR31785-58-1-2-3-3 susceptible) in two hydroponic and one out-door soil-based pot experiments. Partitioning of dry matter, leaf chlorophyll concentration, K+ and Na+ uptake, and proline accumulation in the leaves were investigated under both control and salt stress conditions. Dry matter accumulation decreased with salt stress in all varieties with the decreases being more pronounced in IR31785 and Kıral. The results show that the varieties tested expressed different adaptation mechanisms under salt stress, however the increase of leaf proline accumulation was a general indicator for responses to salt stress in all cultivars. - full paper here online -

Dimpka, C., Weinand, T., Asch, F., 2009.
Plant–rhizobacteria interactions alleviate abiotic stress conditions. Plant, Cell, and Evironment,
32 (12), 1682-1694

Root-colonizing non-pathogenic bacteria can increase plant resistance to biotic and abiotic stress factors. Bacterial inoculates have been applied as biofertilizers and can increase the effectiveness of phytoremediation. Inoculating plants with non-pathogenic bacteria can provide ‘bioprotection’ against biotic stresses, and some root-colonizing bacteria increase tolerance against abiotic stresses such as drought, salinity and metal toxicity. Systematic identification of bacterial strains providing cross-protection against multiple stressors would be highly valuable for agricultural production in changing environmental conditions. For bacterial cross-protection to be an effective tool, a better understanding of the underlying morphological, physiological and molecular mechanisms of bacterially mediated stress tolerance, and the phenomenon of cross-protection is critical. Beneficial bacteria-mediated plant gene expression studies under non-stress conditions or during pathogenic rhizobacteria–plant interactions are plentiful, but only few molecular studies on beneficial interactions under abiotic stress situations have been reported. Thus, here we attempt an overview of current knowledge on physiological impacts and modes of action of bacterial mitigation of abiotic stress symptoms in plants. Where available, molecular data will be provided to support physiological or morphological observations. We indicate further research avenues to enable better use of cross-protection capacities of root-colonizing non-pathogenic bacteria in agricultural production systems affected by a changing climate.

Asch, F., Huelsebusch, Chr., 2009.
Agricultural research for the Tropics: caught between energy demands and food needs. Journal of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Tropics and Subtropics 110 (1), 75–91

The use of plant biomass for fuel is almost as old as mankind. However, a continuously growing population and the increasingly rapid exploitation of both fossil fuels and natural resources such as soil, water and biodiversity, have stimulated a debate of how to balance the needs and demands for food, feed, non-food raw materials and most recently energy in agricultural systems. Against the background of the current population growth, mankind faces the problem that the global system is closed and the available resources are finite. Energy is the only resource constantly supplied to the system from outside. All energy resources available on earth are in one way or the other transformations
of one of the four following: a) solar energy - which can be exploited directly, is transformed into biomass by photosynthesis, and drives the global wind and water cyle, b) tidal force owing to gravitational pull between earth and moon, c) the earth’s internal heat exploited as geothermic energy and d) nuclear energy. Of these, solar, tidal and geothermic energy are energy sources, which are not finite in time periods humans can still grasp. Based on data on fossil fuel reserves and consumption figures....(continue)

Asch, F., Bahrun, A., Jensen, C.R., 2009.
Root–shoot communication of field-grown maize drought-stressed at different rates as modified by atmospheric conditions. Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science 172, 678-687

Maize is often grown in drought-prone environments and, thus, drought resistance is an important trait. In order to minimize production losses, plants need to respond and adapt early and fast to moisture loss in the root zone. From experiments under controlled conditions, constituents of the xylem sap, such as the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA), or xylem pH have long been recognized to act as signals in root-shoot communication. To investigate early signals of field-grown maize under conditions of progressive drought, a field trial was set up in a field lysimeter for two consecutive years. Although the experimental set-up was very similar in the two years, plant responses to moisture loss were significantly different in both, the cascade of events and the intensity of responses. The main difference between the two years was in atmospheric vapor-pressure deficit (VPD), accelerating the drying rate of the soil in the second year. In contrast to observations during the first year, the sudden increase in VPD in the second year caused a strong, transient peak in xylem sap ABA concentration, but no change in xylem pH or leaf ABA concentration was observed. Whereas the water relations of the maize plants remained stable in the first year, they were severely unbalanced in the second. It is argued that the strong xylem-ABA signal triggered a change from adaptation mechanisms to survival mechanisms. Modulations due to VPD of constituents of the signal cascade induced by drought are discussed with regard to possible resistance strategies, their initiation, and their modification by combining primary environmental signals.

Badridze, G., Weidner, A., Asch, F., Börner, A., 2009.
Variation in salt tolerance within a Georgian wheat germplasm collection. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution,
56 (8), 1125-1130.

Bread wheat Triticum aestivum L. possesses a genetic variation for the ability to survive and reproduce under salt stress conditions. Durum wheat (T. durum Desf.) is in general more sensitive in comparison to bread wheat, however, exceptions can be found showing the same extent of salt tolerance. Endemic wheats in general are characterised by a high adaptability to their environment. The level and variability of salt tolerance were assessed in a germplasm collection of 144 winter and spring wheat accessions from Georgia comprising Triticum aestivum L., T. durum Desf., T. dicoccon Schrank, T. polonicum L. and Georgian endemics: T. carthlicum Nevski, T. karamyschevii Nevski, T. macha Dekapr. et Menabde, T. timopheevii (Zhuk.) Zhuk. and T. zhukovskyi Menabde et Ericzjan. The accessions were tested for salt tolerance at the germination stage. Large variability in salt tolerance within the Georgian germplasm was found among the different wheat species. The endemic hexaploid winter wheat T. macha and the endemic tetraploid wheat T. timopheevii were among the most tolerant materials, thus presenting promising donors for salt tolerant traits in future breeding efforts for salinity tolerance in wheat.

Becker, M., Asch, F., Chiem, N. H., Ni, D. V., Saleh, E., Tanh, K. V., Tinh, T. K. 2008.
Decomposition of organic substrates and their effect on mungbean growth in two soils of the Mekong Delta. J. Agric. Rural Dev. Trop. Subtr. 109, 95-107. 

Agricultural land use in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam is dominated by intensive irrigated rice cropping systems on both alluvial and acid sulfate soils. A generally observed decline in productivity is linked on the alluvial soils to low N use efficiency and low soil organic matter content while on acid sulfate soils to acidity, Al toxicity and P deficiency. Faced with productivity declines, farmers increasingly diversify their cropping system by replacing the dry season rice by high-value horticultural crops grown under upland conditions. However, upland cropping is likely to further exacerbate the soil-related problems. Organic substrates from decentralized waste/water management are widely available and may help alleviate the reported soil problems. During the dry season of 2003/2004, the effect of the application of various types and rates of locally available waste products on crop performance was evaluated at both an alluvial and an acid sulfate soil site. The C and N mineralization dynamics of nine organic substrates from waste and wastewater treatment were determined by anaerobic (N) and aerobic (C) incubation in the laboratory. The response of diverse 12 week-old field-grown upland crops (dry matter accumulation) to substrate application (1.5 – 6.0 Mg ha-1) was evaluated on in a degraded alluvial and an acid sulfate soil. In the alluvial soil, largest mineralization rates were observed from anaerobic sludge. Biomass increases in 12 week-old upland crops ranged from 25-98% above the unfertilized control and were generally highest with legumes and lowest with vegetables. In the acid sulfate soil, highest net-N release rates were observed from aerobic composts with high P content. Crop biomass was related to soil pH and exchangeable Al3+ and was highest with the application of aerobic composts, with vegetables responding more than tubers or legumes. We conclude that the use of organic substrates in the rice-based systems of the Mekong Delta needs to be soil specific.

Becker, M., Asch, F., Maskey, S. L., Pande, K. R., Shah, S. C., Shresth, S. 2007. Effects of transition season management on soil N dynamics and system N balances in rice–wheat rotations of Nepal. Field Crops Research 103, 98-108.

In the low-input rice–wheat production systems of Nepal, the N nutrition of both crops is largely based on the supply from soil pools. Declining yield trends call for management interventions aiming at the avoidance of native soil N losses. A field study was conducted at two sites in the lowland and the upper mid-hills of Nepal with contrasting temperature regimes and durations of the dry-to-wet season transition period between the harvest of wheat and the transplanting of lowland rice. Technical options included the return of the straw of the preceding wheat crop, the cultivation of short-cycled crops during the transition season, and combinations of both. Dynamics of soil Nmin, nitrate leaching, nitrous oxide emissions, and crop N uptake were studied throughout the year between 2004 and 2005 and partial N balances of the cropping systems were established. In the traditional system (bare fallow between wheat and rice) a large accumulation of soil nitrate N and its subsequent disappearance upon soil saturation occurred during the transition season. This nitrate loss was associated with nitrate leaching (6.3 and 12.8 kg ha−1 at the low and high altitude sites, respectively) and peaks of nitrous oxide emissions (120 and 480 mg m−2 h−1 at the low and high altitude sites, respectively). Incorporation of wheat straw at 3 Mg ha−1 and/or cultivation of a nitrate catch crop during the transition season significantly reduced the build up of soil nitrate and subsequent N losses at the low altitude site. At the high altitude site, cumulative grain yields increased from 2.35 Mg ha−1 with bare fallow during the transition season to 3.44 Mg ha−1 when wheat straw was incorporated. At the low altitude site, the cumulative yield significantly increased from 2.85 Mg ha−1 (bare fallow) to between 3.63 and 6.63 Mg ha−1, depending on the transition season option applied. Irrespective of the site and the land use option applied during the transition season, systems N balances remained largely negative, ranging from −37 to −84 kg N ha−1. We conclude that despite reduced N losses and increased grain yields the proposed options need to be complemented with additional N inputs to sustain long-term productivity.

Becker, M., Asch, F. 2005. Iron toxicity in rice -  conditions and management concepts. J. Plant Nutri. Soil Sci. 168, 558-573.

Iron toxicity is a syndrome of disorder associated with large concentrations of reduced iron (Fe2+) in the soil solution. It only occurs in flooded soils and hence affects primarily the production of lowland rice. The appearance of iron toxicity symptoms in rice involves an excessive uptake of Fe2+ by the rice roots and its acropetal translocation into the leaves where an elevated production of toxic oxygen radicals can damage cell structural components and impair physiological processes. The typical visual symptom associated with these processes is the bronzing of the rice leaves and substantial associated yield losses.
The circumstances of iron toxicity are quite well established. Thus, the geochemistry, soil microbial processes, and the physiological effects of Fe2+ within the plant or cell are documented in a number of reviews and book chapters. However, despite our current knowledge of the processes and mechanisms involved, iron toxicity remains an important constraint to rice production, and together with Zn deficiency, it is the most commonly observed micronutrient disorder in wetland rice. Reported yield losses in farmers' fields usually range between 15% and 30%, but can also reach the level of complete crop failure.
A range of agronomic management interventions have been advocated to reduce the Fe2+ concentration in the soil or to foster the rice plants' ability to cope with excess iron in either soil or the plant. In addition, the available rice germplasm contains numerous accessions and cultivars which are reportedly tolerant to excess Fe2+. However, none of those options is universally applicable or efficient under the diverse environmental conditions where Fe toxicity is expressed. Based on the available literature, this paper categorizes iron-toxic environments, the steps involved in toxicity expression in rice, and the current knowledge of crop adaptation mechanisms in view of establishing a conceptual framework for future constraint analysis, research approaches, and the targeting of technical options.
- full paper here online -

Asch, F., Becker, M., Kpongor, D. S. 2005. A quick and efficient screen for resistance to iron toxicitiy in lowland rice. J. Plant Nutri. Soil Sci. 168, 764-773.

Iron (Fe) toxicity is a major stress to rice in many lowland environments worldwide. Due to excessive uptake of Fe2+ by the roots and its acropetal translocation into the leaves, toxic oxygen radicals may form and damage cell structural components, thus impairing physiological processes. The typical visual symptom is the bronzing of the rice leaves, leading to substantial yield losses, particularly when toxicity occurs during early vegetative growth stages. The problem is best addressed through genotype improvement, i.e., tolerant cultivars. However, the time of occurrence and the severity of symptoms and yield responses vary widely among soil types, years, seasons, and genotypes. Cultivars resistant in one system may fail when transferred to another. Better targeting of varietal improvement requires selection tools improving our understanding of the resistance mechanisms and strategies of rice in the presence of excess iron. A phytotron study was conducted to develop a screen for seedling resistance to Fe toxicity based on individual plants subjected to varying levels of Fe (0-3000 mg L-1 Fe supplied as Fe(II)SO4), stress duration (1-5 d of exposure), vapor-pressure deficit (VPD; 1.1 and 1.8 kPa), and seedling age (14 and 28 d). Genotypes were evaluated based on leaf-bronzing score and tissue Fe concentrations. A clear segregation of the genotypic tolerance spectrum was obtained when scoring 28 d old seedlings after 3 d of exposure to 2000 mg L-1 Fe in a high-VPD environment. In most cases, leaf-bronzing scores were highly correlated with tissue Fe concentration (visual differentiation in includer and excluder types). The combination of these two parameters also identified genotypes tolerating high levels of Fe in the tissue while showing only few leaf symptoms (tolerant includers). The screen allows selecting genotypes with low leaf-bronzing score as resistant to Fe toxicity, and additional analyses of the tissue Fe concentration of those can identify the general adaptation strategy to be utilized in breeding programs.
- full paper here online -

Asch, F., Dingkuhn, M., Sow, A., Audebert, A. 2005. Drought-induced changes in rooting patterns and assimilate partitioning between root and shoot in upland rice. Field Crops Research 93, 223-236.

Drought is a major stress affecting rainfed rice systems. Root characteristics such as root length density, root thickness, and rooting depth and distribution have been established as constituting factors of drought resistance. Deep rooting cultivars are more resistant to drought than those with shallow root systems. The present study sought to quantify the effects of different levels of drought on dry matter partitioning and root development of three rice cultivars (CG14 [Oryza glaberrima], WAB56-104 [O. sativa tropical japonica, improved] and WAB450-24-3-2-P18-HB [CG14 x WAB56-104 hybrid]. Two experiments on assimilate partitioning under different levels of drought stress were conducted under rain shelters at the West Africa Rice Development Association, Mbe, Ivory Coast. PVC tubes (diameter = 0.2m, height 0.6m) containing about 25 kg of sandy loam were used for the drought stress experiments. For rooting depth and root distribution studies, the tubes were subdivided into four compartments of  0.15 m each. In the first trial, tubes with WAB56-104 were gradually droughted to five levels of soil moisture content that were kept constant thereafter. In the second trial, plants of all cultivars were subjected to three drought treatments: (1) constant soil moisture content at field capacity (about 22% moisture content), (2) constant soil moisture content of 14% (about –0.5 MPa soil matrix potential) and (3) constant soil moisture content of 9% (about –1 MPa soil matrix potential). Rice reacted to drought stress with reductions in height, leaf area and biomass production, tiller abortion, changes in root dry matter and rooting depth and a delay in reproductive development. Assimilate partitioning between root and shoot, determined from changes in dry matter, was not affected by drought when the plants were gradually stressed. In no case additional biomass was partitioned to the roots, on the contrary, dry matter partitioning to the root completely ceased under severe stress. Due to the irrigation technique used, vertical soil moisture distribution varied little, but roots grew deeper under drought stress. This was particularly the case for the upland adapted WAB56-104. Implication for modeling of drought responses in upland rice systems are discussed.

Andersen, M. N., Asch, F., Wu, Y., Jensen, C. R., Naested, H., Mogensen, V. O., Koch, K. E., 2002. Soluble Invertase Expression Is an Early Target of Drought Stress during the Critical, Abortion-Sensitive Phase of Young Ovary Development in Maize. Plant Physiol. 130, 591-604.

To distinguish their roles in early kernel development and stress, expression of soluble (Ivr2) and insoluble (Incw2) acid invertases was analyzed in young ovaries of maize (Zea mays) from 6 d before (-6 d) to 7 d after pollination (+7 d) and in response to perturbation by drought stress treatments. The Ivr2 soluble invertase mRNA was more abundant than the Incw2 mRNA throughout pre- and early post-pollination development (peaking at +3 d). In contrast, Incw2 mRNAs increased only after pollination. Drought repression of the Ivr2 soluble invertase also preceded changes in Incw2, with soluble activity responding before pollination (-4 d). Distinct profiles of Ivr2 and Incw2 mRNAs correlated with respective enzyme activities and indicated separate roles for these invertases during ovary development and stress. In addition, the drought-induced decrease and developmental changes of ovary hexose to sucrose ratio correlated with activity of soluble but not insoluble invertase. Ovary abscisic acid levels were increased by severe drought only at -6 d and did not appear to directly affect Ivr2 expression. In situ analysis showed localized activity and Ivr2 mRNA for soluble invertase at sites of phloem-unloading and expanding maternal tissues (greatest in terminal vascular zones and nearby cells of pericarp, pedicel, and basal nucellus). This early pattern of maternal invertase localization is clearly distinct from the well-characterized association of insoluble invertase with the basal endosperm later in development. This localization, the shifts in endogenous hexose to sucrose environment, and the distinct timing of soluble and insoluble invertase expression during development and stress collectively indicate a key role and critical sensitivity of the Ivr2 soluble invertase gene during the early, abortion-susceptible phase of development.
- full paper here online -

Bahrun, A., Jensen, C. R., Asch, F., Mogensen, V. O., 2002. 
Drought-induced changes of xylem pH, ionic composition, and [ABA] act as early signals in field-grown maize (Zea mays L.). Journal of Experimental Botany, 53, 251-263.

Early signals potentially regulating leaf growth and stomatal aperture in field grown maize (Zea mays L.) subjected to drought were investigated. Plants grown in a field-lysimeter on two soil types were subjected to progressive drought during vegetative growth. Leaf ABA content, water status, extension rate, conductance, photosynthesis, nitrogen content, and xylem sap composition were measured daily. Maize responded similarly to progressive drought on both soil types. Effects on loam were less pronounced than on sand. Relative to fully-watered controls, xylem pH increased by about 0.3 units and conductivity decreased by about 0.25 mS cm-1 one day after withholding irrigation (DAWI). Xylem nitrate, ammonium, and phosphate concentrations decreased by about 50 % at 3-5 DAWI, potassium concentration decreased by about 50 % at 7-11 DAWI and xylem ABA concentration increased by 40-60 pmol ml-1 at 5-7 DAWI. Midday leaf water potential, photosynthesis and leaf nitrogen content were significantly decreased in droughted plants. Leaf extension rate decreased 5 DAWI, after the changes in xylem chemical composition had occurred. Xylem nitrate concentration was the only ionic xylem sap component significantly correlated to increasing soil moisture deficit and decreasing leaf nitrogen concentration. Predawn leaf ABA content in droughted plants increased by 100-200 ng g-1 dry weight at 7 to 8 DAWI coinciding with a decrease in stomatal conductance before any significant decrease in midday leaf water potential was observed. Based on the observed sequence, a chain of signal events is suggested eventually leading to stomatal closure and leaf surface reduction through interactive effects of reduced nitrogen supply and plant growth regulators under drought.

Asch, F. Andersen, M. N., Jensen, C. R., Mogensen, V. O., 2001. 
Ovary Abscisic Acid Concentration does not Induce Kernel Abortion in Field-grown Maize Subjected to Drought
. European Journal of Agriculture 15, 119-129.

This study investigated the effects of drought of different duration and severity on ovary ABA concentration and yield components in field-grown maize (Zea mays L. cv. Loft). The study was conducted in a field lysimeter of the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (KVL) in Højbakkegaard (55°40' N; 12°18' E; 28 masl), Denmark in 1997. Irrigation was withheld at four different dates to induce drought of different duration and severity at the reproductive stage of the plants. Plots were re-watered shortly after silking and kept at field capacity for the remainder of the season. Soil water status, plant height, and early morning leaf water potential were monitored during the treatment. Ovary abscisic acid concentration was determined at four dates before and after fertilization. Final grain yield, total dry matter, harvest index, mean kernel weight, kernel weight distribution, and kernel number per cob were determined at maturity. Plant height was significantly (p < 0.05) reduced by 40% and 25% respectively in the two most severe drought treatments. In the two shorter drought treatments no effect of drought stress on plant height or biomass was observed. Leaf water potential decreased slowly as a function of relative available soil water content and resulted in -0.4 MPa at the end of the longest and -0.12 MPa at the end of the shortest stress period. Under fully watered conditions, plot yields averaged 1400 g·m-2 for total dry matter (DM) and 700 g·m-2 for grain yield, with a harvest index of about 0.5. Initiation of a drying cycle close to flowering did not change yields. Long drying cycles resulted in significant ( p< 0.05) yield reductions up to 70 % of the fully watered controls. Kernel number per cob was reduced up to 60% under long drought conditions and not affected under short term drought. Drought imposed about two weeks prior to fertilization resulted in 30% reduction in kernel number per cob, but this effect was balanced by an increase of 25 % in mean kernel weight. Long and severe drought increased ovary ABA concentration prior to fertilization, whereas short term drought did not. At fertilization no increase of ovary ABA as compared to fully watered controls was found in any treatment. It is concluded that drought induced grain yield losses in field grown maize cannot be attributed to kernel size reduction or kernel abortion due to ovary ABA concentrations as reported by some authors for studies on maize and wheat under controlled conditions, as ovary ABA concentrations peaked before zygote formation and endosperm development.

Asch, F., Wopereis, M. S. C., 2001. Responses of field-grown irrigated rice cultivars to varying levels of floodwater salinity under semi-arid conditions. Field Crops Research 70, 127-137.

Shallow saline water tables, naturally saline soils and variations in climatic conditions over the two growing seasons, create a harsh environment for irrigated rice production in the Senegal River Delta. At the onset of the growing season, salts accumulated by capillary rise in the topsoil are released into the soil solution and floodwater. Rice fields often lack drainage facilities, or drain from one field to the other, thus building-up salt levels during the season. Salt stress may, therefore, occur throughout the growing season and may coincide with susceptible growth stages of the rice crop. The objectives of the present study were to (i) determine varietal responses to seasonal salinity in both the hot dry season (HDS) and the wet season (WS) and (ii) derive guidelines for surface water drainage at critical growth stages. We evaluated responses of three rice cultivars grown in the region, to floodwater salinity (0-1, 2, 4, 6, 8 mS cm-1), applied either at germination, during two weeks at crop establishment, during two weeks around panicle initiation, or during two weeks around flowering. Floodwater electrical conductivity (EC) reduced germination rate for the most susceptible cultivar by as much as 50% and yield by 80% for the highest salinity level imposed. . Salinity strongly reduced spikelet number per panicle, 1000 grain weight and increased sterility, regardless of season and development stage. The strongest salinity effects on yield were observed around panicle initiation (PI), whereas plants recovered best from stress at seedling stage. Floodwater EC < 2 mS cm-1 hardly affected rice yield. For floodwater EC levels > 2 mS cm-1, a yield loss of up to 1 t ha-1 per unit EC (mS cm-1) was observed for salinity stress around PI (at fresh water yields of about 8 t ha-1). Use of a salinity tolerant cultivar reduced maximum yield losses to about 0.6 t ha-1 per unit EC. It is concluded that use of salinity tolerant cultivars, drainage if floodwater EC > 2 mS cm-1 at critical growth stages, and early sowing in the wet season to avoid periods of low air humidity during the crop cycle, are ways to increase rice productivity in the Senegal River Delta.

Asch, F., Dingkuhn, M., Dörffling, K., 2000. 
Salinity increases CO2 assimilation but reduces growth in field-grown, irrigated rice. Plant and Soil 218, 1-10.

Salinity is a major yield-reducing factor in coastal and arid, irrigated rice production systems. Salt tolerance is a major breeding objective. Three rice cultivars with different levels of salt tolerance were studied in the field for growth, sodium uptake, leaf chlorophyll content, specific leaf area (SLA), sodium concentration and leaf CO2 exchange rates (CER) at photosynthetic active radiation (PAR)-saturation. Plants were grown in Ndiaye, Senegal, at a research station of the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA), during the hot dry season (HDS) and the wet season (WS) 1994 under irrigation with fresh or saline water (flood water electrical conductivity = 3.5 mS cm-1). Relative leaf chlorophyll content (SPAD method) and root, stem, leaf blade and panicle dry weight were measured at weekly intervals throughout both seasons. Specific leaf area was measured on eight dates, and CER and leaf sodium content were measured at mid-season on the first (topmost) and second leaf.
Salinity reduced yields to nearly zero and dry-matter accumulation by 90% for the susceptible cultivar in the HDS, but increased leaf chlorophyll content and CER at PAR-saturation. The increase in CER, which was also observed in the other cultivars and seasons, was explained by a combination of two hypotheses: leaf chlorophyll content was limited by the available N resources in controls, but not in salt-stressed plants; and the sodium concentrations were not high enough to cause early leaf senescence and chlorophyll degradation. The growth reductions were attributed to loss of assimilates (mechanisms unknown) that must have occurred after export from the sites of assimilation. The apparent, recurrent losses of assimilates, which were between 8% and 49% according to simulation with the crop model for potential yields in irrigated rice, ORYZA_S, might be partly due to root decomposition and exudation. Possibly more importantly, energy-consuming processes drained the assimilate supply, such as osmoregulation and interception of sodium and potassium from the transpiration stream in leaf sheaths, and subsequent storage there.

Asch, F., Dingkuhn, M., Miezan, K., Dörffling, K., 2000. 
Leaf K/Na ratio predicts salinity induced yield loss in irrigated rice. Euphytica 113, 109-118

Salinity is a major constraint to irrigated rice production, particularly in semi-arid and arid climates. Irrigated rice is a well suited crop to controlling and even decreasing soil salinity, but rice is a salt-susceptible crop and yield losses due to salinity can be substantial. The objective of this study was to develop a highly predictive screening tool for the vegetative growth stage of rice to estimate salinity-induced yield losses.
Twenty-one rice genotypes were grown over seven seasons in a field trials in Ndiaye, Senegal, between 1991 and 1995 and were subjected to irrigation with moderately saline water (3.5 mS cm-1, electrical conductivity) or irrigation with fresh water. Potassium/sodium ratios of the youngest three leaves (K/NaLeaves) were determined by flame photometry at the late vegetative stage. Grain yield was determined at maturity. All cultivars showed strong log-linear correlations between K/NaLeaves and grain yield, but intercept and slope of those correlations differed between seasons for a given genotype and between genotypes. The K/NaLeaves under salinity was related to grain yield under salinity relative to freshwater controls. There was a highly significant correlation (p< 0.001) between K/NaLeaves and salinity-induced grain yield reduction: the most susceptible cultivars had lowest K/NaLeaves and the strongest yield reductions. Although there were major differences in the effects of salinity on crops in both the hot dry season (HDS) and the wet season, the correlation was equally significant across cropping seasons. The earliest possible time to establish the relationship between K/NaLeaves under salinity and grain yield reduction due to salinity was investigated in an additional trial in the HDS 1998. About 60 days after sowing, salinity-induced yield loss could be predicted through K/NaLeaves with a high degree of confidence (p< 0.01).
A screening system for salinity resistance of rice, particularly in arid and semi-arid climates, is proposed based on the correlation between K/NaLeaves under salinity and salinity-induced yield losses.

Asch F., Sow A., Dingkuhn M., 1999
Reserve mobilization, dry matter partitioning and specific leaf area in seedlings of African rice cultivars differing in early vigor. Field Crops Res. 62, 191-202.

Rice breeding for weed competitiveness requires improved screening tools. An ongoing breeding program uses O. glaberrima as genetic donor for growth vigor and weed competitiveness. This study investigates morphophysiological characteristics relevant to seedling vigor, namely, the kinetics of reserve mobilization, dry matter partitioning among organs, and specific leaf area (SLA). Five diverse cultivars (O. glaberrima upland rice, improved and traditional tropical O. sativa japonica upland rices, an improved O. sativa indica cultivar and an interspecific progeny) were grown in the screenhouse for 18 d on wet soil. Dry matter fractions of plant organs were measured daily, leaf area (LA) and SLA were measured 9, 14 and 18 days after seed soaking (DAS). SLA measurements were repeated using crowded populations simulating farmers' seedbed nurseries.
Seedlings achieved photo-autotrophic growth between 7.6 and 9.3 DAS, and had compensated for respiration losses during heterotrophic growth at 10.3 by 12.4 DAS, with O. glaberrima and improved indica cultivars requiring shorter periods than tropical japonica cultivars. For all cultivars, dry matter partitioning coefficients (PC) for roots were initially high but dropped temporarily to near zero during the transition from heterotrophic to autotrophic growth. The O. glaberrima cultivar had the largest PC for laminae and the largest SLA among the cultivars.
It is concluded that the superior early growth vigor of the O. glaberrima cultivar, as documented in previous studies, is partly due to (1) early onset of autotrophic growth, (2) high PC for leaves, and (3) large SLA. Based on the previous observation that SLA is correlated with weed competitiveness, it appears that SLA measured at about 14 d after germination might be employed as a rapid screen for weed competitiveness.

Dingkuhn, M., Asch, F., 1999. 
Phenological Responses of Oryza sativa, O. glaberrima and Inter-specific Rice Cultivars on a Toposequence in West Africa. Euphytica 110, 109-126.

Phenological properties of rice cultivars, particularly crop duration, determines their yield potential, local agronomic suitability and ability to escape from drought. Crop duration of a given cultivar depends mainly on photoperiod (PP) and temperature, but is also affected by the crop establishment practice and environmental stresses.
A sample of 84 ecologically and genetically diverse rice cultivars was sown on five dates between May and September 1997 on the flooded-lowland (transplant), hydromorphic and upland levels of a toposequence at 7o 52' N in Cote d'Ivoire, in order to characterize the cultivars' phenological responses. In the upland, life-saving sprinkler irrigation was applied when drought symptoms were visible. A non-replicated design augmented with four replicated checks (four replications per ecosystem) was used. Phenology was characterized by date of emergence, first heading, 50% flowering and maturity. The period from emergence to flowering was subdivided into three phases following a simple model used at IRRI to characterize germplasm for photoperiodism. For each ecosystem and cultivar, the basic vegetative period (BVP) was estimated by subtracting 30 d from the duration to flowering at the sowing date associated with the shortest duration, and expressed in degree-days (dd), assuming a base temperature of 10 oC. The PP-sensitive phase (PSP) was estimated by subtracting BVP+30 d from the time to flowering. PP-sensitivity (PS) was calculated from the apparent change in PSP between 12.0 and 12.5 h mean astronomic daylength during the PSP, by regression across dates.
Cultivars differed strongly in BVP (300 to 1200 dd) and PS (0 to 1000 dd). The BVP was generally longer in the lowland than in the hydromorph, and mostly longer in the upland than in the hydromorph, possibly due to transplanting shock (lowland) and drought (upland). Many cultivars, particularly upland-adapted japonicas, had a greater PS in the lowland than in the upland. Principal-component and cluster analyses based on BVP and PS in each of the three ecosystems established three large and three small groups of cultivars having common phenological responses. The linkage groups were associated with ecotypes (lowland vs upland, traditional vs improved) and genetic groups (O. sativa japonica and indica, O. glaberrima, inter-specific progenies). The groups were seen to represent past selection strategies by farmers and recent breeding strategies, with respect to achieving yield stability in the various ecosystems. For example, indigenous selection strategies for O. sativa upland rices seem to have favored a long BVP, whereas from O. glaberrima, which generally has a superior initial vigor, cultivars with a short BVP have been selected. The authors conclude that the modern upland rice breeding strategy for the region on the basis O. sativa, which aims at drought escape using a short BVP, is paralleled by existing indigenous O. glaberrima materials. Efforts to utilize these materials for breeding are ongoing.

Asch F., Dingkuhn, M., Wittstock, C., Dörffling, K., 1999
Sodium and Potassium Uptake of Rice Panicles as Affected by Salinity and Season in Relation to Yield and Yield Components. Plant and Soil 207, 133-145.

Salinity is a major yield reducing stress in many arid and/or coastal irrigation systems for rice. Past studies on salt stress have mainly addressed the vegetative growth stage of rice, and little is known on salt effects on the reproductive organs. Sodium and potassium uptake of panicles was studied for eight rice cultivars in field trials under irrigation with saline and fresh water in the hot dry season (HDS) and the wet season (WS) 1994 at WARDA in Ndiaye, Senegal. Sodium and potassium content was determined at four different stages of panicle development and related to salt treatment effects on yield, yield components and panicle transpiration.
Yield and yield components were strongly affected by salinity, the effects being stronger in the HDS than in the WS. The cultivars differed in the amount of salt taken up by the panicle. Tolerant cultivars had lower panicle sodium content at all panicle development stages than susceptible ones. Panicle potassium concentration decreased with panicle development under both treatments in all cultivars, but to a lesser extent in salt treated susceptible cultivars. Grain weight reduction in the early panicle development stages and spikelet sterility increase in the later PDS were highly correlated (p < 0.01) with an increase in panicle sodium concentration in both seasons, whereas reduction in spikelet number was not. The magnitude of salt-induced yield loss could not be explained with increases in sodium uptake to the panicle alone. It is argued that the amount of sodium taken up by the panicle may be determined by two different factors. One factor (before flowering) being the overall control mechanism of sodium uptake through root properties and the subsequent distribution of sodium in the vegetative plant, whereas the other (from flowering onwards) is probably linked to panicle transpiration.

Asch, F., Dörffling, K., Dingkuhn, M., 1995
Response of Rice Varieties to Soil Salinity and Air Humidity: a possible Involvement of Root-borne ABA. Plant and Soil 177, 11-19

In a phytotron experiment four rice varieties (Pokkali, IR 28, IR 50, IR 31785-58-1-2-3-3) grown in individual pots were subjected to low (40/55% day/night) and high (75/90%) air humidity (RH), while soil salinity was gradually increased by injecting 0, 30, 60 or 120mM NaCl solutions every two days. Bulk root and stem base water potential (SWP), abscisic acid (ABA) content of the xylem sap and stomatal resistance (rs) of the youngest fully expanded leaf were determined two days after each salt application.
The SWP decreased and xylem ABA and rs increased throughout the 8 days of treatment. The effects were amplified by low RH. A chain of physiological events was hypothesized in which high soil electric conductivity (EC) reduces SWP, followed by release of root-borne ABA to the xylem and eventually resulting in stomatal closure. To explain varietal differences in stomatal reaction, supposed cause and effect variables were compared by linear regression. This revealed strong differences in physiological reactions to the RH and salt treatments among the test varieties. Under salt stress roots of IR 31785-58-1-2-3-3 produced much ABA under low RH, but no additional effect of low RH on rs could be found. By contrast, Pokkali produced little ABA, but rs was strongly affected by RH. RH did not affect the relationships EC vs. SWP and SWP vs. ABA in Pokkali, IR 28, and IR 50, but the relationship ABA vs. rs was strongly affected by RH. In IR 31785-58-1-2-3-3 RH strongly affected the relationship SWP vs. ABA, but had no effect on ABA vs. rs and EC vs. rs.
The results are discussed regarding possible differences in varietal stomatal sensitivity to ABA and their implications for varietal salt tolerance.

Dingkuhn, M., Sow, A., Samb, A., Diack, S., Asch, F., 1995
Climatic Determents of Irrigated Rice Performance in the Sahel. I. Photothermal and Micro-climatic Responses of Flowering. Agricultural Systems 48, 385-410

In the Sahel, variable crop duration of irrigated rice poses serious timing problems for intensification of production. Photothermal effects on phenology have been studied to develop simulation tools for breeding and cropping systems research. Forty-nine genotypes were planted at monthly intervals in various rice-garden trials. Environment variability among seasons, sites, and within the crop canopy was characterized to develop a field-based, photothermal model for flowering. Basic concepts were the summation of heat units and a linear thermal response of development having upper (Topt) and lower (Tbase) response limits. Photoperiodism was model by a slope constant (CPP) and a basic vegetative phase. Photoperiodism and transplanting shock acted as modifiers of heat requirements (Tsum), thereby having greater effects on duration at low than at high temperatures. Tbase, Topt, Tsum, BVP and CPP were considered genotypic constants and calibrated by optimization. Daily input for the model was the physiologically relevant temperature Tphys at the shoot apex. Tphys depended on apex submergence, water temperature and diurnal temperature patterns.
Diurnal temperature segments exceeding the Tbase-Topt range were disregarded. Mean water temperature was below air temperature, particularly at high leaf area indices and on dry days. Mean air temperature was closer to minimum than to the maximum when amplitudes were high or days short. Minimum  temperatures below 18° C at booting stage resulted in near total spikelet sterility and a specific delay in heading. The model was validated for a site thermally different from the site of calibration.