The use of rootstocks in viticulture was initiated in response to the widespread destruction of European vineyards after the inadvertent introduction of the grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae) during the mid-19th century (Ordish, 1972). Rootstocks have since been developed for other traits that include nematode resistance, lime tolerance, salt tolerance, tolerance of saturated soil, and influence on scion vigor and fruit maturity (Galet, 1998; Pongrácz, 1983). Drought tolerance can also be included on this list, and the need for further improvement in rootstock-mediated drought tolerance is underscored by recent droughts in major grape-growing regions of Australia (National Climate Centre, 2010) and California (Di Liberto, 2015) and concomitant increasing urban demands on a limited freshwater supply (Fishman, 2012).
Variability in rootstock-mediated drought tolerance occurring among commercially available rootstocks has been documented. On the tolerant end of this spectrum are rootstocks derived from V. champinii. Such tolerance may be a characteristic of the species: for example, an accession of V. champinii was shown to have the strongest drought tolerance of 17 Vitis species compared simultaneously (Padgett-Johnson et al., 2003). An example of a V. champinii rootstock that is generally regarded as drought tolerant is ‘Ramsey’, which is widely used in Australia (Walker and Clingeleffer, 2009). In multiple field trials, yield and pruning weight were highest when Vitis vinifera was grafted onto ‘Ramsey’ (Cirami and McCarthy, 1988; McCarthy et al., 1997; Stevens et al., 2008). In the McCarthy et al. (1997) study, ‘Ramsey’ had the highest yield in both a dry-farmed treatment and an irrigated control, and similar results were reported in Stevens et al. (2008). These results imply that the rank order of performance under unstressed conditions could be predictive for drought tolerance capacity, a principle supported by the correlation of pruning weight rank order (and to a lesser degree, yield) of five grape rootstocks over a wide range of midday leaf water potentials, induced using increasingly restrictive irrigation regimes (Williams, 2010). This principle was also true for the rootstock ‘Richter 110’ (hereafter ‘110R’), which was included in the abovementioned studies and is also considered to be drought tolerant (Keller, 2015). In these studies, ‘110R’ produced lower yields and pruning weight relative to ‘Ramsey’ under both control and water-stressed conditions (McCarthy et al., 1997; Stevens et al., 2008), and also in field trials not specifically targeting performance under drought (Cirami and McCarthy, 1988).
On the drought-sensitive end of the spectrum are rootstocks derived from V. riparia, and two examples are V. riparia ‘Riparia Gloire de Montpellier’ (hereafter ‘Riparia’) and a rootstock derived from V. riparia, ‘Millardet et de Grasset 101-14’ (hereafter ‘101-14Mgt’). Dry and Coombe (2005) note that V. riparia-based rootstocks are in general regarded as drought sensitive, and that both ‘Riparia’ and ‘101-14Mgt’ were recommended against in a drought-prone region as early as 1935 (de Castella). Pouget and Delas (1989) rank ‘Riparia’ and ‘101-14Mgt’ as low in drought resistance and ‘110R’ as high, and a literature review of rootstock surveys by Ollat et al. (2015) ranked ‘Riparia’ as low, ‘101-14Mgt’ as very low to medium, ‘110R’ as high to very high, and ‘Ramsey’ as medium to very high in water stress adaptation.
Despite these cited studies, the ranking of multiple rootstocks for yield and pruning weight using common garden style field trials produces notoriously inconsistent results. Two of many examples include Lambert et al. (2008) who observed an expected ‘Ramsey’ > ‘110R’ > ‘101-14Mgt’ rank ordering of pruning weight and yield in some sites, but not others, and an instance where the expected ‘Ramsey’ > ‘101-14Mgt’ rank order for pruning weight was inverted (Southey, 1992). The environmental influences that likely underlie the sometimes-observed confounding of yield and biomass as measures of drought tolerance might be averted in part if surveys were to be performed in the greater environmental uniformity of a greenhouse with a pest- and disease-free and even-textured soil media, as were performed by Carbonneau (1985) and Natali et al. (1985). In the present study, a rhizotron container system was used with the abovementioned rootstocks ‘Ramsey’, ‘110R’, ‘Riparia’, and ‘101-14Mgt’, and sought to expand on these earlier greenhouse-based assays. Questions in this study specifically addressed 1) the degree to which strictly anatomical characterizations of root architecture and shoot biomass in unstressed young vines could predict drought-tolerance capacity, 2) the degree to which root and shoot growth responses of young vines to a single cycle of drought stress and recovery could predict drought-tolerance capacity, 3) the degree to which and in what time period (i.e., stress vs. recovery) gS of young vines could predict drought-tolerance capacity, and 4) the degree to which measures of young vines at harvest (following drought stress and recovery) could predict drought-tolerance capacity. Elucidation of these questions could provide insights into the genetically based variability of whole plant level responses to drought stress and recovery, and optimize the breeding of Vitis rootstocks for improved drought tolerance.
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