Drought is a major limiting factor for sustainable turfgrass management in the United States. Climate prediction models indicate that the world may experience increased global temperatures, decreased precipitation, and an increase in the occurrence and persistence of drought periods over the next century. A growing challenge facing the turfgrass industry is limited availability of water for irrigation (Snow, 2001). Thus, understanding the mechanisms of drought resistance is increasingly important for turfgrass breeders and managers.
Dehydrins are the late embryogenesis abundant (LEA) D 11 family of hydrophilic proteins with a wide range of molecular masses from 9 to 200 kDa (Close, 1996). They accumulate in plants in response to environmental influence with a dehydration component such as drought, salinity, and low temperature (Beck et al., 2007; Close, 1997). These proteins have been postulated to stabilize macromolecules or cellular structure and help to maintain the integrity of cell membranes against dehydration (Beck et al., 2007; Bray, 1997; Campbell and Close, 1997; Close, 1997). Most work with dehydrins in turfgrass has been completed in cold acclimation and freezing tolerance (Gatschet et al., 1994; Patton et al., 2007; Zhang et al., 2008, 2011). There are also studies reporting that dehydrins are present in turfgrass when drought-stressed (Hu et al., 2010; Jiang and Huang, 2002; Pan et al., 2013; Volaire, 2002). Very few data exist in turfgrass that support the popular hypothesis that dehydrin accumulation is positively correlated with dehydration tolerance. Hu et al. (2010) reported that accumulation of 31- and 40-kDa dehydrins may contribute to drought tolerance in bermudagrass through investigating four hybrid bermudagrasses (Cynodon dactylon × Cynodon transvaalensis) and four common bermudagrasses (C. dactylon).
Bermudagrass, the most important warm-season turfgrass grown in the southern portion of the United States, is regarded as a drought-resistant species (McCarty and Miller, 2002) with genotypic variation in drought resistance. Its drought resistance mechanisms include drought avoidance and drought tolerance. Some bermudagrasses have growth features such as deeper root systems, thicker cuticles, and smaller stomatal openings, which can improve their drought avoidance (Carrow, 1995, 1996; Qian et al., 1997). Others can sustain biochemical and physiological processes during internal water deficits (Hu et al., 2010; Huang et al., 1997). Different drought resistance mechanisms among bermudagrass cultivars may exhibit different patterns of dehydrin expression in response to drought stress. Three cultivars of bermudagrass selected for this study were two common bermudagrass cultivars, Celebration and Premier, and a clonally propagated hybrid cultivar developed by Oklahoma State University, Latitude 36. Several researchers have reported that ‘Celebration’ is a top-performing drought-resistant cultivar with a deep root system, whereas ‘Premier’ has high visual quality but is a drought-sensitive cultivar (Baldwin et al., 2006; Poudel, 2010; Steinke et al., 2009). ‘Latitude 36’, tested as OKC1119, was an excellent performer among all cultivars in the 2007 to 2011 National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) bermudagrass test and had high turf quality rating (NTEP, 2013). However, there are few reports on the drought resistance mechanisms associated with dehydrin protein expression during drought stress. Investigations concerning the physiological bases of cultivar differences in drought resistance would provide valuable selection information for turfgrass breeders and managers. The objectives of this study were to investigate physiological changes in three bermudagrass cultivars under well-watered conditions and drought stress, to determine expression differences in soluble protein and dehydrin of three cultivars under well-watered and drought stress conditions, and to identify the association between dehydrin proteins and drought tolerance.
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