Field microenvironments regulate crop diel transcript and metabolite rhythms.
Most research in plant chronobiology has been done in laboratory conditions. However, laboratories usually fail to mimic natural conditions and their slight fluctuations, highlighting or obfuscating rhythmicity. High-density crops, such as sugarcane (Saccharum hybrid), generate field microenvironments with specific light and temperature regimes resulting from mutual shading. We measured the metabolic and transcriptional rhythms in the leaves of 4-month-old (4 mo) and 9 mo field-grown sugarcane. Most of the assayed rhythms in 9 mo sugarcane peaked >1 h later than in 4 mo sugarcane, including rhythms of the circadian clock gene, LATE ELONGATED HYPOCOTYL (LHY). We hypothesized that older sugarcane perceives dawn later than younger sugarcane as a consequence of self-shading. As a test, we measured LHY rhythms in plants on the east and the west sides of a field. We also tested if a wooden wall built between lines of sugarcane plants changed their rhythms. The LHY peak was delayed in the plants in the west of the field or beyond the wall; both shaded at dawn. We conclude that plants in the same field may have different phases resulting from field microenvironments, impacting important agronomical traits, such as flowering time, stalk weight and number.