Biomass & Bioenergy, Vol.120, 273-280, 2019
Salinity effects on germination, seedlings and full-grown plants of upland and lowland switchgrass cultivars
Soil salinization is one of the major threats affecting crop production, in particular in the Mediterranean basin where over 1 Mha are salt-affected. Growing lignocellulosic crops, such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), in marginal saline soils could represent a valuable opportunity to mitigate land abandonment while producing feedstock for biofuels. However, little is still known about salt tolerance of upland and lowland switchgrass cultivars. This study addressed the morphological and physiological responses of Shawnee (upland) and Alamo (lowland) to a range of salinity levels from 0 to 14 dS m(-1). Two consecutive experiments were carried out one in petri dish to test the response to salinity at germination and early growth stages, the other in pot to evaluate the response to salinity until flowering stage (full-grown plants). Both upland and lowland cultivars were able to grow until "critical" salinity levels (14 dS m(-1)) but their tolerance differed depending on growth stage. Alamo showed a higher tolerance to salinity than Shawnee at very early growth stages (germination/emergence), presenting a germination rate more than double that of Shawnee (60 vs. 19%, main effect cultivar). Nevertheless, Shawnee resulted in a higher tolerance at a full-grown stage likely due to a more efficient salt exclusion capacity, as indicated by the higher residual soil electric conductivity at the end of the experiment detected in Shawnee pots. Final biomass production was anyhow considerably significantly higher in Alamo than Shawnee under any tested salinity level, which demonstrated the improved ability of lowland cultivar to produce biomass compared to Shawnee which otherwise might have invested resources into exclusion mechanisms.