Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a warm-season C4 grass that is a target lignocellulosic biofuel species. In many regions, drought stress is one of the major limiting factors for switchgrass growth. The objective of this study was to evaluate the drought tolerance of 49 switchgrass genotypes. The relative drought stress tolerance was determined based on a set of parameters including plant height, leaf length, leaf width, leaf sheath length, leaf relative water content (RWC), electrolyte leakage (EL), photosynthetic rate (Pn), stomatal conductance (g s), transpiration rate (Tr), intercellular CO2 concentration (Ci), and water use efficiency (WUE).
SRAP marker analysis determined that the selected 49 switchgrass genotypes represent a diverse genetic pool of switchgrass germplasm. Principal component analysis (PCA) and drought stress indexes (DSI) of each physiological parameter showed significant differences in the drought stress tolerance among the 49 genotypes. Heatmap and PCA data revealed that physiological parameters are more sensitive than morphological parameters in distinguishing the control and drought treatments. Metabolite profiling data found that under drought stress, the five best drought-tolerant genotypes tended to have higher levels of abscisic acid (ABA), spermine, trehalose, and fructose in comparison to the five most drought-sensitive genotypes.
Based on PCA ranking value, the genotypes TEM-SEC, TEM-LoDorm, BN-13645-64, Alamo, BN-10860-61, BN-12323-69, TEM-SLC, T-2086, T-2100, T-2101, Caddo, and Blackwell-1 had relatively higher ranking values, indicating that they are more tolerant to drought. In contrast, the genotypes Grif Nebraska 28, Grenville-2, Central Iowa Germplasm, Cave-in-Rock, Dacotah, and Nebraska 28 were found to be relatively sensitive to drought stress. By analyzing physiological response parameters and different metabolic profiles, the methods utilized in this study identified drought-tolerant and drought-sensitive switchgrass genotypes. These results provide a foundation for future research directed at understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying switchgrass tolerance to drought.||en_US