Section 67
Chapter 66,267

The morphological and physiological responses of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) , cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata L.) and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.; syn. Schedonorus phoenix Scop.) to variable water availability

Turner, L.R.; Holloway-Phillips, M.M.; Rawnsley, R.P.; Donaghy, D.J.; Pembleton, K.G.

Grass and Forage Science 67(4): 507-518


ISSN/ISBN: 0142-5242
DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2494.2012.00866.x
Accession: 066266919

There is a growing interest in the use of deficit irrigation and perennial pasture species other than perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) in temperate agriculture, in response to the decreasing availability of irrigation water. Deficit irrigation requires an understanding of plant responses to drought stress to ensure maximum dry-matter return on water applied. A glasshouse study was undertaken to investigate some of the morphological and physiological responses of perennial ryegrass, cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata L.) and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.; syn. Schedonorus phoenix Scop.) to varied moisture availability. One water treatment involved frequent applications of water to maintain a soil water potential of approximately -10 kPa (100% treatment), and three other treatments involved applications at the same frequency, but using 33, 66 or 133% of the water applied in the 100% treatment. The water treatments continued over two plant regrowth cycles, followed by a recovery phase of a single regrowth cycle during which all plants received the same water allocation as the 100% treatment. Depletion and replenishment of stubble water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) differed between the three species in response to soil moisture availability. By the second regrowth cycle, stubble WSC concentration and content in moisture-stressed cocksfoot plants had increased, followed by a decrease during the subsequent recovery phase when the stored WSC reserves were utilized to support regrowth. The changes in stubble WSC reserves corresponded to the maintenance of relatively stable (i.e. the smallest reduction in leaf DM in response to moisture stress), but consistently lower DM production for cocksfoot compared with the other species. In contrast, moisture stress had no effect on the stubble WSC reserves of perennial ryegrass and tall fescue, with the exception of a significant decrease in WSC concentration under the 33% water treatment for perennial ryegrass. Perennial ryegrass achieved an intermediate DM yield and maintained positive growth rates throughout the study, even when watered at 33% of the requirement for optimal soil moisture levels. However, a more pronounced reduction in leaf DM in plants under moisture stress compared with the other species, combined with declining WSC reserves and the death of daughter tillers, highlighted the vulnerability of perennial ryegrass to poor persistence under prolonged drought conditions. Tall fescue appeared to have the greatest scope under moisture stress in terms of maintaining productivity and displaying attributes that contribute to persistence. Its leaf DM was consistently greater than that of the other species, displaying a smaller decline in growth under water stress compared to perennial ryegrass and an ability to recover faster upon re-watering. This study has expanded the information available that compares and defines the potential of each species under moisture stress and emphasizes the importance of balancing short-term DM production with long-term persistence in choice of pasture species.

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