Sub-optimal growing conditions have a major effect on plants; therefore, large efforts are devoted to maximizing the availability of agricultural inputs to crops. To increase the sustainable use of non-renewable inputs, attention is currently given to the study of plants under non-optimal conditions. In this work, we investigated the impact of sub-optimal macrocations availability and light intensity in two lettuce varieties that differ for the accumulation of secondary metabolites (i.e., ‘Red Salanova’ and ‘Green Salanova’). Photosynthesis-related measurements and untargeted metabolomics were used to identify responses and pathways involved in stress resilience. The pigmented (‘Red’) and the non-pigmented (‘Green Salanova’) lettuce exhibited distinctive responses to sub-optimal conditions. The cultivar specific metabolomic signatures comprised a broad modulation of metabolism, including secondary metabolites, phytohormones, and membrane lipids signaling cascade. Several stress-related metabolites were altered by either treatment, including polyamines (and other nitrogen-containing compounds), phenylpropanoids, and lipids. The metabolomics and physiological response to macrocations availability and light intensity also implies that the effects of low-input sustainable farming systems should be evaluated considering a range of cultivar-specific positive and disadvantageous metabolic effects in addition to yield and other socio-economic parameters.
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