Water deficit is the most limiting factor for yield and fruit-quality parameters in papaya crop (Carica papaya L.), deficit-irrigation (DI) strategies offering a feasible alternative to manage limiting water resources. When DI is applied, it is crucial to assess the physiological status of the crop in order to maintain the plant within a threshold value of water stress so as no to affect yield or fruit-quality parameters. The aim of this work was to evaluate the feasibility of thermal imaging in young papaya plants to assess the physiological status of this crop when it is subjected to different DI regimes, studying the relationships between the changes in leaf temperature (Tleaf) and in the major physiological parameters (i.e., stomatal conductance to water vapor, gs; transpiration, E; and net photosynthesis, An). The trial was conducted in a greenhouse from March to April of 2012. Plants were grown in pots and subjected to four irrigation treatments: (1) a full irrigation treatment (control), maintained at field capacity; (2) a partial root-zone drying treatment, irrigated with 50% of the total water applied to control to only one side of roots, alternating the sides every 7 days; (3) a regulated deficit irrigation (50% of the control, applied to both sides of plant); (4) and a non-irrigated treatment, in which irrigation was withheld from both sides of the split root for 14 days, followed by full irrigation until the end of the study. Significant relationships were found between Tleaf and major physiological variables such as gs, E and An. Additionally, significant relationships were found between the difference of leaf-to-air temperature (ΔTleaf-air) and gas-exchange measurements, which were used to establish the optimum range of ΔTleaf-air as a preliminary step to the crop-water monitoring and irrigation scheduling in papaya, using thermal imaging as the main source of information. According to the results, we conclude that thermal imaging is a promising technique to monitor the physiological status of papaya during drought conditions.
- Crop-water status monitoring
- Deficit irrigation