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Gerardine Mukeshimana, Amy L. Lasley, Wayne H. Loescher, and James D. Kelly

Drought is an important abiotic stress that limits common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) productivity. The objective of this study was to determine shoot traits that are associated with drought tolerance in common bean seedlings. Ten common bean genotypes consisting mainly of cultivars and breeding lines from the Mesoamerican race of the Middle American gene pool were first evaluated in the greenhouse. Genotypes were grown in a shallow soil profile to limit root growth and assess shoot phenotypes under stress. Water stress was imposed by withholding watering for 24 days after planting. Traits evaluated included wilting, unifoliate senescence, stem greenness, and recovery from drought. Biomass and number of pods/plant produced after drought recovery were evaluated to quantify the effect of early drought stress on bean growth and reproduction. A second group of 94 common bean genotypes from the Bean Coordinated Agricultural Project (BeanCAP) were evaluated using the same protocol to determine the genetic variability for the same traits in a wider range of genotypes. In general, genotypes known to possess drought avoidance in the field conferred by deep rooting traits performed poorly in these conditions suggesting that the assay could be used to identify seedling shoot traits that contribute to drought tolerance. Genotypes from race Mesoamerica showed the greatest range in wilting. Genotypes that showed a slow rate of wilting maintained a green stem and had a higher recovery rate after watering. Importantly, these genotypes demonstrated a smaller reduction in biomass and pod number under stress compared with non-stress treatments. A few genotypes recovered completely despite expressing severe wilting, whereas the majority of genotypes with high wilting rates did not recover. Among the BeanCAP materials, genotypes bred in the rainfed midwestern United States showed overall better recovery than those bred under the irrigated production system used in the western United States. Because recovery from drought is a prerequisite to plant regrowth, biomass, and pod production after drought stress, factors that contribute to recovery were studied. Stem greenness was highly positively correlated to the recovery, whereas wilting was negatively correlated to the recovery. In a regression analysis, stem greenness and slow wilting were found to be important contributors to the variability of recovery. In addition, photosynthetic rate and stomatal conductance (g S) explained variation in wilting and stem greenness. These results suggest that wilting and stem greenness might be useful traits to screen for drought tolerance in seedlings of common bean.