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Micropropagated chile ancho pepper (Capsicum annuum L. cv. San Luis) plants were transferred to ex vitro conditions to study plantlet performance and selected physiological changes that occur during acclimatization and post-acclimatization. The physiology of the plantlets was characterized by measuring leaf gas exchange and water status. Plant growth was determined by assessing plant height, leaf number, total leaf area, relative growth rate (RGR), and leaf, root, and stem dry mass. Measurements were taken at 0, 1, 2, 3, 6, 12, and 24 days after transplanting. After initial transplanting ex vitro to liner pots with soilless media, plantlet wilting was observed that correlated with reduced leaf relative water content (RWC). Water stress was partially alleviated by a reduction in stomatal conductance (gs), confirming that the in vitro formed stomata were functional and able to regulate transpiration (E) to minimize desiccation losses. Because of this stomatal control, plantlets had minimal transplant shock, recovered, and survived. Prior to transplanting, micropropagated plantlets showed heterotrophic/mixotrophic characteristics as indicated by low photosynthesis [(A) 4.74 μmol·m2·s-1]. During acclimatization, RWC, gs, E, and A were significantly lower 2 days after transplanting. However, within 6 days after transplanting, plantlets recovered and became autotrophic, attaining high A (16.3 μmol·m-2·s-1), gs, and E. The stabilization and improvement of plantlet water status and gas exchange during acclimatization and post-acclimatization closely correlated with dramatic increases in plantlet growth.

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The role of mycorrhiza fungi during acclimatization and post-acclimatization of micropropagated chile ancho plantlets was characterized through physiological and plantlet development changes. Regardless of mycorrhizal colonization, the pepper plantlets had initially low photosynthetic rates and poor growth following transplanting ex vitro. During the first days of acclimatization, water deficits occurred as evidenced by drastic reductions in relative water content. Consequently, transpiration rates and stomatal conductance (gs) declined, confirming that in vitro formed stomata were functional, thus avoiding excessive leaf dehydration and plant death. Mycorrhiza had a positive effect on gas exchange as early as day 7 and 8, as indicated by increasing photosynthesis (A) and gs. Mycorrhizal plantlets had reduced levels of abscisic acid (ABA) during peak stress (6 days after transplanting ex vitro), which corresponded with subsequent increases in gs and A. During acclimatization, A increased in both non-colonized and colonized plantlets, with greater rates observed in mycorrhizal plantlets. During post-acclimatization, mycorrhiza colonized 45% of the roots of pepper plantlets and enhanced plant growth by increasing leaf area, leaf dry mass, and fruit number. Mycorrhiza also enhanced total leaf chlorophyll content, A, and nutrient uptake of pepper plantlets, particularly N, P, and K. Early mycorrhizal colonization produced important benefits, which helped ex vitro transplanted plantlets recover during acclimatization and enhance physiological performance and growth during post-acclimatization.

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A 3-year field study was conducted at Blackville, S.C., to evaluate the potential of using resistant pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) cultivars as a rotation crop for managing the southern root-knot nematode [Meloidogyne incognita (Kofoid and White) Chitwood]. The experiment was a split-plot with main plots arranged in a randomized complete-block design. In 1993, the entire experimental site was infested with M. incognita by inoculating a planting of susceptible PA-136 cayenne pepper with eggs of M. incognita race 3. In 1994, the main plots were planted to either highly resistant `Carolina Cayenne' or its susceptible sibling line PA-136. In 1995, `Carolina Cayenne' and the susceptible bell cultivars California Wonder and Keystone Resistant Giant were grown as subplots in each of the original main plots. `Carolina Cayenne' plants were unaffected by the previous crop. Previous cropping history, however, had a significant impact on the performance of the bell cultivars; the mean galling response was less (P < 0.01) and the yield was 2.8 times greater (P < 0.01) in the main plots previously cropped with `Carolina Cayenne' than in those previously cropped with PA-136. These results suggest that resistant pepper cultivars have considerable merit as a rotation crop for managing M. incognita infestations in soils used for growing high-value vegetables.

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