Stomatal traits for water-use efficient crops

Water is the cost of our food. Understanding how plants use available water and convert it to food even in harsh environments is essential to develop resilient crops.

Wheat Scepter

​​​​​​​Plants regulate water use through tiny pores at the leaf surface named stomata. When water is ample in soil, stomata are open to allow carbon dioxide entry into the leaf and produce carbohydrates via photosynthesis. Simultaneously, water is released to the atmosphere via transpiration. When water supply to the plant is limited, plants close stomata to save available water, which also results in lower carbon fixation and slower growth. The balance between carbon entry and water loss is critical for plant growth and productivity in dry environments. 

In the context of a changing climate, the dynamic nature of stomatal traits make stomata attractive targets in plant breeding. Until recently, research on stomatal traits was limited by researchers’ ability to measure stomata, as current methods used for stomata phenotyping are tedious. We recently developed a rapid non-destructive method1 that allows high-throughput screening of stomatal traits in large experiment. In this project, the student will learn and apply state-of-the-art tools to investigate the hydraulic and physiological basis of water-use efficiency in plants. Key research questions in this project include:

  • What are optimal stomatal patterning for efficient use of water in dry environments?
  • Which stomatal traits did breeders select for in recent varieties?
  • Which non-stomatal factors influence water-use efficiency?

Knowledge created through this project will guide breeders in targeting specific traits associated with high yielding varieties.


  • Dr Abdeljalil El Habti is a postdoctoral research fellow with the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide. His research focuses on the mechanisms involved in plants’ ability to use water and convert it to food in dry environments. In particular, he investigates optimum stomatal traits for plant adaptation to drought.

Further information

This project may be eligible for a $5000 student scholarship. Please contact the project supervisor for details and to express your interest.

1 P. Pathoumthong, Z. Zhang, S. Roy, A. El Habti.  “Rapid non-destructive method to phenotype stomata”. bioRxiv 2022.06.28.497692;

Tagged in Honours projects - Agricultural science, Honours projects - Plant science