Chilling injury (CI) can occur in susceptible turfgrasses, such as bermudagrass (Cynodon sp.), as a result of nonfreezing low temperature stress. Bermudagrass is a warm-season turfgrass predominantly grown in the southern and transition zone regions of the United States, where CI can be characterized by loss of chlorophyll and a resulting off-color appearance associated with a decrease in photosynthetic activity (White and Schmidt, 1989). For fall-season sports, maintenance of aesthetic quality associated with chilling tolerance is important.
During chilling stress, the functionality and survival of a plant cell depends on the integrity of membranes. The chloroplast is typically the first location within the cell to incur CI (Kimball and Salisbury, 1973). The thylakoid membrane system is primarily composed of galactolipids: monogalactosyldiacylglycerol (MGDG) and digalactosyldiacylglycerol (DGDG) (Douce and Joyard, 1990). In contrast, the plasma membrane primarily consists of phospholipids, including phosphatidylcholines (PC), phosphatidylethanolamines (PE), phosphatidylglycerols (PG), phosphatidylinositols (PI), phosphatidylserines (PS), phosphatidic acids (PA), and glycerolipids. Injury to membranes during chilling stress occurs as the lipid bilayer shifts from a liquid crystalline state to gel crystalline state (Raison and Orr, 1990). This solidification of membrane lipids at low temperature is followed by contraction and the formation of cracks (Lyons and Raison, 1970).
Plants undergo physiological changes in response to low nonfreezing temperatures. This process is termed “cold acclimation” and can increase the survivability of cells under subsequent freezing stress. For warm-season turfgrasses that undergo a seasonal dormancy, freezing tolerance can be more akin to winter survivability and is hereafter defined as the ability of nodes within rhizomes and/or stolons to survive winter low temperatures and resume normal growth in the spring. The importance of cold acclimation for turfgrass freezing tolerance has been reported to include shifts in osmotic protectants, protein synthesis, antioxidant production, and fatty acid saturation (Munshaw et al., 2006; Zhang et al., 2006). Samala et al. (1998) reported greater desaturation of fatty acids in crown tissue after 12 d of cold acclimation for the freezing-tolerant cultivar Midiron interspecific hybrid bermudagrass [C. dactylon × C. transvaalensis) as compared with the freezing-sensitive cultivar U-3 common bermudagrass (C. dactylon). Cold acclimation is essentially analogous to chilling stress, and plant physiological changes that contribute to enhanced freezing tolerance may have different effects on chilling tolerance.
White and Schmidt (1989) reported differences in chilling tolerance between ‘Midiron’ and ‘Tifgreen’ interspecific hybrid bermudagrass. The same authors concluded that chilling influenced carbohydrate distribution and induced loss of chlorophyll, which contributed to photosynthetic inactivity; and that the more chilling-tolerant cultivar (Midiron) was able to recover from acute CI by resuming normal processes quickly.
Reports from the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) show that ‘Tifway’ bermudagrass has repeatedly performed well in regards to a “frost tolerance rating”—which can be considered comparable to fall color retention or chilling tolerance (NTEP, 1997, 2014). Interestingly, turfgrasses demonstrating poor chilling tolerance have, in some cases, been associated with superior freezing tolerance and early post-dormancy regrowth (Munshaw et al., 2006; NTEP, 2014). The underlying mechanism for these responses to chilling is uncertain, but membrane integrity is a critical aspect of chilling and freezing tolerance that may be involved. A better understanding of these processes may contribute to more efficient selection and improvement of germplasm for the chilling tolerance trait.
The objectives of the study were to 1) quantify membrane lipid composition in leaves of three bermudagrasses under prolonged chilling stress and 2) identify relationships between lipid composition and apparent chilling tolerance in bermudagrass.
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