Call edition 2012

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Plant-water relations of drought-sensitive and drought-resistant teaclones in South Africa

Jenike VANDENBERGHE student laureate

°1974 Belgium
Bio-engineer in land and forest management, option: soil and water management, Universiteit Gent, Belgium, 2000

Studie van de plant-water relaties bij droogte-gevoelige en droogte-resistente theeklonen in Zuid-Afrika

In her study, Jenike Vandenberghe acquires new understandings of the plant-water relations of tea clones. This study contributes to a project concerning the improvement of the selection of tea clones and irrigation strategies for tea estates in the Northern Province of South Africa by means of ecophysiological studies. The new insights are not only important in the scientific field, they also have a strong social impact.
Most tea plantations in South Africa are found in the Northern Province, the poorest province of the country. The cultivation of tea requires a number of very labour-intensive activities, thus creating employment in the empoverished, rural areas.
Nevertheless, climatic circumstances in the Northern Province are not very suitable for intensive tea production. Tea cultivars that are not adjusted to these circumstances, like most of the cultivars used up till now, produce inferior yield-results. The present remedy consists of an inefficient irrigation, in which enormous amounts of water are spoiled. As a result, many rural communities are deprived of the most essential element of their natural resources: water.
A better solution would be to use appropriate tea cultivars with a good water-efficiency. Therefore, knowledge needs to be obtained about clone-bound plant strategies that increase water efficiency of the plants. The aim of the research done by Jenike Vandenberghe, was to find a screening parameter, which can catalogue new clones, in an early stage of development as drought-resistant or drought-sensitive. To reach this goal, ecophysiological measurements were conducted on various tea clones with known drought-resistance. These measurements took place under controlled circumstances on the one hand (in a growth chamber) and in situ on the tea plantations on the other. The research reveals that leaf temperature and sap flow are significantly different for all drought-sensitive and drought-resistant clones. Sap flow appears to be the most appropriate ecophysiological parameter for drought-resistance screening.

report by Valérie Trouet (Ph.D. student), Laboratory for forest, nature and landscape research, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven & Laboratory for woodbiology, Africa Museum, Tervuren, Belgium