Journal article Open Access
To assess the reliability and sensitivity of non-invasive optical methods to detect the early effects of water deficit in the field, we analyzed the time-series of non-invasive measurements obtained in a dry season in a representative collection of wheat genotypes grown in small-plot field trials, in non-irrigated and irrigated variants. Despite a progressive water deficit and significant yield loss, the measurements indicated very minor changes in chlorophyll content or canopy cover. This corresponded well to the insignificant differences in spectral reflectance normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) values. On the other hand, we identified the significant and rapid response of fast fluorescence kinetics data following the onset of irrigation. Analysis of parameters showed the main effects of drought were associated with changes in the amplitude of the I–P phase of the OJIP transient, indicating changes at the level of photosystem I and beyond. Statistical analyses identified the integrative parameter performance index PItot as the most sensitive parameter, which well-reflects the differences in responses of the genotypes to water deficit. Our results suggest that focusing on photosynthetic functions detected by the rapid chlorophyll fluorescence records can provide more accurate information on the drought stress level, compared to the structural data obtained by absorbance or reflectance measurements.