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Longxing Hu, Zehui Huang, Shuqian Liu and Jinmin Fu

Plant adaptation to salt stress may be associated with morphological, physiological, and gene expression alterations. The objective of this study was to investigate the effect of salt stress on morphological and antioxidant enzyme changes and its gene expressions in bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon). Salt-tolerant ‘C43’ and salt-sensitive ‘C198’, previously determined in our preliminary study, were subjected to four salinity levels: 0 mm (control), 100 mm (low), 200 mm (moderate), and 400 mm (high) NaCl for 21 days. Salt stress decreased turf quality and canopy height, especially in ‘C198’. Salt stress increased root length, root number, root fresh weight, and root/shoot length ratio, to a greater extent in salt-tolerant genotype. Salt stress increased Na+ and decreased K+ content, which resulted in a higher Na+/K+ ratio in bermudagrass, to a great extent in shoot and root of ‘C198’. Moderate (200 mm) and high (400 mm) salt concentration increased malondialdehyde and hydrogen peroxide content in old leaves of ‘C198’. ‘C43’ exhibited a greater activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), ascorbate peroxidase (APX), and dehydro-ascorbate reductase (DHAR) than ‘C198’ in old leaves subjected to 200 and 400 mm NaCl. Antioxidant gene expressions were upregulated in new leaves and downregulated in old leaves with increasing salinity levels for both genotypes. Salt-tolerant genotypes exhibited a relatively greater antioxidant gene expression than salt-sensitive ones when exposed to the same level of salt stress. These results suggested that SOD, CAT, APX, and DHAR might be involved in scavenging salt stress-induced reactive oxygen species in bermudagrass at the level of gene expression. Salt tolerance might be attributed to the development and maintenance of a more extensive root system under saline conditions and induced antioxidant gene expressions, leading to more efficient enzyme stimulation and protection in bermudagrass.