Summer decline is typically characterized by heat and drought stress and is a major concern for fine fescue species (Festuca). The objectives of this study were to examine whether heat or drought stress is more detrimental, and to determine the genotypic variations in heat and drought tolerance for fine fescues. A total of 26 cultivars, including seven hard fescues (Festuca trachyphylla), eight chewings fescues (Festuca rubra ssp. commutate), seven strong creeping red fescues (Festuca rubra ssp. rubra), two sheep fescues (Festuca ovina ssp. hirtula), and two slender creeping red fescues (Festuca rubra ssp. littoralis) were subjected to prolonged heat or drought stress in growth chambers. Several physiological parameters, including turf quality (TQ), electrolyte leakage (EL), photochemical efficiency (Fv/Fm) chlorophyll content (Chl), and relative water content (RWC) were measured in plants exposed to heat or drought stress. The results indicated that heat stress was more detrimental than drought stress for fine fescue species. Based on TQ and major physiological parameters (EL and Fv/Fm) under heat stress, several cultivars with good heat tolerance were selected, including ‘Blue Ray’, ‘Spartan II’, ‘MN-HD1’, ‘Shoreline’, ‘Navigator II’, ‘Azure’, ‘Beacon’, ‘Aurora Gold’, ‘Reliant IV’, ‘Marco Polo’, ‘Garnet’, ‘Wendy Jean’, ‘Razor’, and ‘Cindy Lou’. Based on TQ and major physiological parameters (EL, RWC, and Fv/Fm) under drought stress, several cultivars with good drought tolerance were selected, including ‘Spartan II’, ‘MN-HD1’, ‘Reliant IV’, ‘Garnet’, ‘Azure’, and ‘Aurora Gold’. These cultivars could be used in hot, dry, or both environments and as breeding germplasm for developing heat tolerance, drought tolerance, or both.
The authors wish to acknowledge the funding support by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Specialty Crops Research Initiative under award number 2012-51181-19932. The authors also thank Stephanie Rossi and Cathryn Chapman for critically reviewing the manuscript.
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