A two-year field trial was conducted to study the effects of prolonged water stress on cassava (Manihot esculenta) productivity, and on nutrient uptake and use efficiency. Four contrasting cultivars were supplied with adequate fertilization and watering, except when water was excluded by covering the soil with plastic sheets for different periods, depending on treatment: from two to six months, four to eight months, or from six to twelve months after planting (early, mid-season and terminal stress respectively). Sequential harvests were made at 2, 4, 6, 8 and 12 months after planting to determine leaf area index and shoot and root biomass. At final harvest, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium concentrations in shoots and storage roots were determined.
During both early and mid-season stress, leaf area index and shoot and root biomass were significantly smaller than those in the controls across all cultivars. After recovery from stress, leaf area index was greatly enhanced with less dry matter allocated to stems, and root yields approached those in the controls. One cultivar, CMC 40, had greater final root yield under stress treatments. Nutrient concentration in roots and shoots was less in all cultivars with early stress and resulted in higher nutrient use efficiency in all elements for root production. The same trend was observed under mid-season stress, except for nitrogen concentration, which remained unchanged.
Terminal stress did not affect leaf area index, but reduced the shoot biomass in all cultivars. Final root yields were smaller than those in the controls except for CMC 40 whose final root yield was greater under stress. Nitrogen concentration was greater in root biomass but less in shoot biomass of all cultivars, resulting in lower nitrogen–use efficiency for root production. Across cultivars, only potassium- and magnesium-use efficiencies were greater than in the controls. CMC 40 was the only cultivar with consistently greater use efficiency of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium for root production under terminal stress. This higher nutrient use efficiency was due, mainly, to a greater root production rather than to smaller nutrient concentration. This cultivar is suitable as a gene source for improving cassava in order to maximize root production per unit nutrient extracted under stressful environmental conditions.