Crop and Pasture Science Crop and Pasture Science Society
Plant sciences, sustainable farming systems and food quality
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Summer dormancy in Festuca arundinacea Schreb.; the influence of season of sowing and a simulated mid-summer storm on two contrasting cultivars

M. R. Norton A B C D , F. Volaire B and F. Lelièvre B

A NSW Dept. of Primary Industries, GPO Box 1600, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

B Institut National de Recherche Agronomique (INRA), UMR System, 2 place Viala, 34060 Montpellier, France.

C School of Land and Food Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: mark.norton@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 57(12) 1267-1277 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AR06082
Submitted: 13 March 2006  Accepted: 7 August 2006   Published: 21 November 2006

Abstract

Due to the shortage of information on summer dormancy in tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea, syn. Lolium arundinaceum), we tested the response of 2 cultivars of differing dormancy expression and growth stage to a range of summer moisture conditions, including full irrigation, drought, and a simulated mid-summer storm and analysed whether traits associated with summer dormancy conferred better survival under severe field drought. Autumn-sown reproductive and younger, spring-sown plants of 2 cultivars, claimed to exhibit contrasting summer dormancy, were established and then tested in summer 2002 under either long drought, drought + simulated mid-summer storm, or full irrigation. The autumn-sown reproductive plants of cv. Flecha exhibited traits that can be associated with partial summer dormancy since under summer irrigation they reduced aerial growth significantly and exhibited earlier herbage senescence. Moreover, cv. Flecha used 35% less soil water over the first summer. However, the water status of leaf bases of young vegetative tillers of both cultivars was similar under irrigation and also throughout most of the drought (leaf potential and water content maintained over –4 MPa and at approx. 1 g H2O/g DM, respectively). The summer-active cv. Demeter did not stop leaf elongation even in drought and produced twice as much biomass as Flecha under irrigation. Cultivar Demeter responded to the simulated storm with a decline in dehydrin expression in leaf bases, whereas no decline occurred in Flecha, presumably because it remained partially dormant. The younger, spring-sown swards of both cultivars had similar biomass production under summer irrigation but whereas Demeter regrew in response to the simulated storm, cv. Flecha did not, indicating that dormancy, although only partially expressed, was reinforced by summer drought. In all trials, cv. Flecha out-yielded Demeter in autumn regrowth. In particular, the severe drought in 2003 caused a 25% loss of the basal cover in cv. Demeter, whereas Flecha fully maintained its sward allowing it to produce a higher post-drought autumn yield. This work links summer dormancy with higher persistence over long, dry summers.

Additional keywords: tall fescue, drought, dehydrin, persistence, pasture, Lolium arundinaceum.


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