Investigation on Various Aboveground Traits to Identify Drought Tolerance in Cowpea Seedlings

in HortScience

Impacts of drought stress on crop production can significantly impair farmer’s revenue, hence adversely impacting the gross national product growth. For cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.], which is a legume of economic importance, effects of drought at early vegetative growth could lead to substantial yield losses. However, little has been done with respect to breeding for cowpea cultivars withstanding drought at early vegetative growth. In addition, previous investigations have focused on how plant morphology and root architecture can confer drought tolerance in cowpea, which is not sufficient in efforts to unravel unknown drought tolerance–related genetic mechanisms, potentially of great importance in breeding, and not pertaining to either plant morphology or root architecture. Therefore, the objective of this study was to evaluate aboveground drought-related traits of cowpea genotypes at seedling stage. A total of 30 cowpea genotypes were greenhouse grown within boxes and the experimental design was completely randomized with three replicates. Drought stress was imposed for 28 days. Data on a total of 17 aboveground-related traits were collected. Results showed the following: 1) a large variation in these traits was found among the genotypes; 2) more trifoliate wilt/chlorosis tolerance but more unifoliate wilt/chlorosis susceptible were observed; 3) delayed senescence was related to the ability of maintaining a balanced chlorophyll content in both unifoliate and trifoliate leaves; and 4) the genotypes PI293469, PI349674, and PI293568 were found to be slow wilting and drought tolerant. These results could contribute to advancing breeding programs for drought tolerance in cowpea.

Contributor Notes

Corresponding author. E-mail: ashi@uark.edu.

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    Greenhouse phenotyping experiments for drought tolerance at seedling stage in cowpea: (A) drought stress was imposed for 7 d, (B) for 14 d, (C) for 21 d, and (D) for 28 d (Photo: Dr. Ainong Shi).

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    Overall plant greenness assessed on a 1 to 5 scale: 1 = plants were completely green, 2 = plants began losing greenness, 3 = signs of chlorosis and necrosis were visible, 4 = chlorosis and necrosis was severe, and 5 = plants were completely dead (Photo: Dr. Ainong Shi).

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    Slow-wilting (green) and fast-wilting (yellow) cowpea genotypes at 28 d of drought stress (Photo: Dr. Ainong Shi).

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    Soil moisture content over time during drought stress.

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    Combined violin and boxplots of the values related to aboveground traits of cowpea under drought stress for 28 d: (A) plant greenness scores, (B) percentage of dead plants, (C) recovery rate after rewatering, (D) percentage of lodged plants, (E) percentage of plants showing wilting sign, and (F) percentage of plants exhibiting necrotic stems.

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    Combined violin and boxplots for (A) stem diameter (mm) recorded at first sign of wilting, (B) percentage of plants showing dead growing point, (C) unifoliate leaf length, and (D) unifoliate leaf width. Percentage of plants having dead growing points was recorded at 28 d of drought stress. Stem diameter was measured at first sign of plant wilting. Unifoliate leaf length and width were recorded before imposing drought stress on cowpea plants.

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    Percentage of plants showing signs of (A) wilting on unifoliate leaves, (B) chlorosis on unifoliate leaves, (C) wilting on trifoliate leaves, and (D) chlorosis on trifoliate leaf. Data were recorded at 28 d of drought stress.

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    Chlorophyll (SPAD values) in (A) unifoliate leaves and (B) trifoliate leaves over time. Ratio (C) between chlorophyll in unifoliate leaves and trifoliate leaves, respectively. Week 1, week 2, and week 3 corresponded to 7 d, 14 d, and 21 d of drought stress.

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    Heatmap of the average chlorophyll content (SPAD) in unifoliate and trifoliate leaves at 7 d, 14 d, and 21 d of drought stress, respectively. Green indicated high chlorophyll content, whereas red indicated low chlorophyll content.

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    Network analysis between traits evaluated under drought stress in cowpea. Path was shown using solid lines if Person's coefficient value between trait values was greater than 0.65.

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