Consistent alleviation of abiotic stress with silicon addition: a meta-analysis

Cooke, Julia and Leishman, Michelle R. (2016). Consistent alleviation of abiotic stress with silicon addition: a meta-analysis. Functional Ecology, 30(8) pp. 1340–1357.



1. Hundreds of single species studies have demonstrated the facility of silicon (Si) to alleviate diverse abiotic stresses in plants. Understanding of the mechanisms of Si-mediated stress alleviation is progressing, and several reviews have brought information together. A quantitative assessment of the alleviative capacity of Si, however, which could elucidate plant Si function more broadly, was lacking.
2. We combined the results of 145 experiments, predominantly on agricultural species, in a meta-analysis to statistically assess the responses of stressed plants to Si supply across multiple plant families and abiotic stresses. We interrogated our database to determine whether stressed plants increased in dry mass and net assimilation rate, oxidative stress markers were reduced, antioxidant responses were increased and whether element uptake showed consistent changes when supplied with Si.
3. We demonstrated that across plant families and stress types, Si increases dry weight, assimilation rate and chlorophyll biosynthesis and alleviates oxidative damage in stressed plants. In general, results indicated that plant family (as a proxy for accumulator type) and stress type had significant explanatory power for variation in responses. The consistent reduction in oxidative damage was not mirrored by consistent increases in antioxidant production, indicative of the several different stress alleviation mechanisms in which Si is involved. Silicon addition increased K in shoots, decreased As and Cd in roots and Na and Cd in shoots. Silicon addition did not affect Al, Ca or Mn concentration in shoots and roots of stressed plants. Plants had significantly lower concentrations of Si accumulated in shoots but not in roots when stressed.
4. Meta-analyses showed consistent alleviation by Si of oxidative damage caused by a range of abiotic stresses across diverse species. Our findings indicate that Si is likely to be a useful fertilizer for many crops facing a spectrum of abiotic stresses. Similarities in responses across families provide strong support for a role of Si in the alleviation of abiotic stress in natural systems, where it has barely been explored. We suggest this role may become more important under a changing climate and more experiments using non-agricultural species are now needed.

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