Background: Plants are often subjected to periods of soil and atmospheric water deficits during their life cycle as well as, in many areas of the globe, to high soil salinity. Understanding how plants respond to drought, salt and co-occurring stresses can play a major role in stabilizing crop performance under drought and saline conditions and in the protection of natural vegetation. Photosynthesis, together with cell growth, is among the primary processes to be affected by water or salt stress.
Scope: The effects of drought and salt stresses on photosynthesis are either direct (as the diffusion limitations through the stomata and the mesophyll and the alterations in photosynthetic metabolism) or secondary, such as the oxidative stress arising from the superimposition of multiple stresses. The carbon balance of a plant during a period of salt/water stress and recovery may depend as much on the velocity and degree of photosynthetic recovery, as it depends on the degree and velocity of photosynthesis decline during water depletion. Current knowledge about physiological limitations to photosynthetic recovery after different intensities of water and salt stress is still scarce. From the large amount of data available on transcript-profiling studies in plants subjected to drought and salt it is becoming apparent that plants perceive and respond to these stresses by quickly altering gene expression in parallel with physiological and biochemical alterations; this occurs even under mild to moderate stress conditions. From a recent comprehensive study that compared salt and drought stress it is apparent that both stresses led to down-regulation of some photosynthetic genes, with most of the changes being small (ratio threshold lower than 1) possibly reflecting the mild stress imposed. When compared with drought, salt stress affected more genes and more intensely, possibly reflecting the combined effects of dehydration and osmotic stress in salt-stressed plants.