A comparison of hydroponic and soil-based screening methods to identify salt tolerance in the field in barley

Ehsan Tavakkoli, Foad Fatehi, Pichu Rengasamy, Glenn K McDonald
Journal of Experimental Botany 2012, 63 (10): 3853-67
Success in breeding crops for yield and other quantitative traits depends on the use of methods to evaluate genotypes accurately under field conditions. Although many screening criteria have been suggested to distinguish between genotypes for their salt tolerance under controlled environmental conditions, there is a need to test these criteria in the field. In this study, the salt tolerance, ion concentrations, and accumulation of compatible solutes of genotypes of barley with a range of putative salt tolerance were investigated using three growing conditions (hydroponics, soil in pots, and natural saline field). Initially, 60 genotypes of barley were screened for their salt tolerance and uptake of Na(+), Cl(-), and K(+) at 150 mM NaCl and, based on this, a subset of 15 genotypes was selected for testing in pots and in the field. Expression of salt tolerance in saline solution culture was not a reliable indicator of the differences in salt tolerance between barley plants that were evident in saline soil-based comparisons. Significant correlations were observed in the rankings of genotypes on the basis of their grain yield production at a moderately saline field site and their relative shoot growth in pots at EC(e) 7.2 [Spearman's rank correlation (rs)=0.79] and EC(e) 15.3 (rs=0.82) and the crucial parameter of leaf Na(+) (rs=0.72) and Cl(-) (rs=0.82) concentrations at EC(e) 7.2 dS m(-1). This work has established screening procedures that correlated well with grain yield at sites with moderate levels of soil salinity. This study also showed that both salt exclusion and osmotic tolerance are involved in salt tolerance and that the relative importance of these traits may differ with the severity of the salt stress. In soil, ion exclusion tended to be more important at low to moderate levels of stress but osmotic stress became more important at higher stress levels. Salt exclusion coupled with a synthesis of organic solutes were shown to be important components of salt tolerance in the tolerant genotypes and further field tests of these plants under stress conditions will help to verify their potential utility in crop-improvement programmes.

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