Maize genotypes with deep root systems tolerate salt stress better than those with shallow root systems during early growth

Wang H, Liang L, Liu S, An T, Fang Y, Xu B, Zhang S, Deng X, Palta JA, Siddique KHM, Chen Y

Published: 17 September 2020 in Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science
Keywords: K⁺/Na⁺ ratio, biomass, phenotyping, root traits, salt tolerance
DOI: 10.1111/jac.12437

Maize (Zea mays L.) is susceptible to salinity but shows genotypic variation for salt tolerance. How maize genotypes with contrasting root morphological traits respond to salt stress remains unclear. This study assessed genotypic variation in salinity tolerance of 20 maize genotypes with contrasting root systems exposed to NaCl for 10 days (0, 50 mM or 100 mM NaCl, added in four increments every other day from 14 days after transplanting, DAT) in a semi-hydroponic phenotyping system in a temperature-controlled greenhouse. Considerable variation was observed for each of the 12 measured shoot and root traits among the 20 genotypes under NaCl treatments. Salt stress significantly decreased biomass production by up to 54% in shoots and 37% in roots compared with the non-saline control. The 20 genotypes were classified as salt-tolerant (8 genotypes), moderately tolerant (5) and salt-sensitive (7) genotypes based on the mean shoot dry weight ratio (the ratio of shoot dry weight at 100 mM NaCl and non-saline control) ± one standard error. The more salt-tolerant genotypes (such as Jindan52) had less reductions in growth, and lower shoot Na+ contents and higher shoot K+/Na+ ratios under salt stress. The declared salt tolerance was positively correlated with shoot height, shoot dry weight and primary root depth, and negatively correlated with shoot Na+ content at 100 mM NaCl. Primary root depth is critical for identifying salt responsiveness in maize plants and could be suggested as a selection criterion for screening salt tolerance of maize during early growth. The selected salt-tolerant genotypes have potentials for cultivation in saline soils and for developing high-yielding salt-tolerant maize hybrids in future breeding programmes.