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Genotypic differences in deep water extraction associated with drought tolerance in wheat

Eric S. Ober A F , Peter Werner B , Edward Flatman C , William J. Angus D , Peter Jack E , Lucy Smith-Reeve C and Chris Tapsell B

A National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge, CB3 0LE, UK.
B KWS UK, 56 Church Street, Thriplow, Hertfordshire, SG8 7RE, UK.
C Limagrain, Woolpit, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, IP30 9UP, UK.
D Angus Wheat Consultants, Ltd, The Pines, Rattlesden, Suffolk, IP30 0RA, UK.
E RAGT Seeds, Grange Road, Ickleton, Essex, CB10 1TA, UK.
F Corresponding author. Email: eric.ober@niab.com
This paper originates from a presentation at the Interdrought IV Conference, Perth, Australia, 26 September 2013.

Functional Plant Biology - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/FP14094
Submitted: 26 March 2014  Accepted: 8 June 2014   Published online: 31 July 2014


 
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Abstract

The ability of roots to extract soil moisture is critical for maintaining yields during drought. However, the extent of genotypic variation for rooting depth and drought tolerance in Northern European wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) germplasm is not known. The objectives of this study were to measure genotypic differences in root activity, test relationships between water use and yield, examine trade-offs between yield potential and investment of biomass in deep roots, and identify genotypes that contrast in deep root activity. A diverse set of 21 wheat genotypes was evaluated under irrigated and managed drought conditions in the field. Root activity was inferred from patterns of water extraction from the soil profile. Genotypes were equally capable of exploiting soil moisture in the upper layers, but there were significant genotypic differences in rates of water uptake after anthesis in deeper soil layers. For example, across the three years of the study, the variety Xi19 showed consistently deeper root activity than the variety Spark; Xi19 also showed greater drought tolerance than Spark. There were positive correlations between water extraction from depth and droughted yields and drought tolerance, but correlations between deep water use and yield potential were not significant or only weakly negative. With appropriate screening tools, selection for genotypes that can better mine deep soil water should improve yield stability in variable rainfall environments.

Additional keywords: soil moisture extraction, Triticum aestivum, water limitation, yield potential.


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