Distinct leaf transcriptomic response of water deficient Eucalyptus grandis submitted to potassium and sodium fertilization

While potassium fertilization increases growth yield in Brazilian eucalyptus plantations, it could also increase water requirements, making trees more vulnerable to drought. Sodium fertilization, which has been shown to promote eucalyptus growth compared to K-deficient trees, could partially mitigate this adverse effect of potassium. However, little is known about the influence of K and Na fertilization on the tree metabolic response to water deficit. The aim of the present study was thus to analyze the transcriptome of leaves sampled from Eucalyptus grandis trees subjected to 37% rainfall reduction, and fertilized with potassium (K), sodium (Na), compared to control trees (C). The multifactorial experiment was set up in a field with a throughfall exclusion system. Transcriptomic analysis was performed on leaves from two-year-old trees, and data analyzed using multifactorial statistical analysis and weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA). Significant sets of genes were seen to respond to rainfall reduction, in interaction with K or Na fertilization, or to fertilization only (regardless of the water supply regime). The genes were involved in stress signaling, primary and secondary metabolism, secondary cell wall formation and photosynthetic activity. Our focus on key genes related to cation transporters and aquaporins highlighted specific regulation of ion homeostasis, and plant adjustment to water deficit. While water availability significantly affects the transcriptomic response of eucalyptus species, this study points out that the transcriptomic response is highly dependent on the fertilization regime. Our study is based on the first large-scale field trial in a tropical region, specifically designed to study the interaction between water availability and nutrition in eucalyptus. To our knowledge, this is the first global transcriptomic analysis to compare the influence of K and Na fertilization on tree adaptive traits in water deficit conditions.