Genotypic variation in seedling root architectural traits and implications for drought adaptation in wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)
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Root system characteristics are of fundamental importance to soil exploration and below-ground resource acquisition. Root architectural traits determine the in situ space-filling properties of a root system or root architecture. The growth angle of root axes is a principal component of root system architecture that has been strongly associated with acquisition efficiency in many crop species. The aims of this study were to examine the extent of genotypic variability for the growth angle and number of seminal roots in 27 current Australian and 3 CIMMYT wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) genotypes, and to quantify using fractal analysis the root system architecture of a subset of wheat genotypes contrasting in drought tolerance and seminal root characteristics. The growth angle and number of seminal roots showed significant genotypic variation among the wheat genotypes with values ranging from 36 to 56 (degrees) and 3 to 5 (plant−1), respectively. Cluster analysis of wheat genotypes based on similarity in their seminal root characteristics resulted in four groups. The group composition reflected to some extent the genetic background and environmental adaptation of genotypes. Wheat cultivars grown widely in the Mediterranean environments of southern and western Australia generally had wider growth angle and lower number of seminal axes. In contrast, cultivars with superior performance on deep clay soils in the northern cropping region, such as SeriM82, Baxter, Babax, and Dharwar Dry exhibited a narrower angle of seminal axes. The wheat genotypes also showed significant variation in fractal dimension (D). The D values calculated for the individual segments of each root system suggested that, compared to the standard cultivar Hartog, the drought-tolerant genotypes adapted to the northern region tended to distribute relatively more roots in the soil volume directly underneath the plant. These findings suggest that wheat root system architecture is closely linked to the angle of seminal root axes at the seedling stage. The implications of genotypic variation in the seminal root characteristics and fractal dimension for specific adaptation to drought environment types are discussed with emphasis on the possible exploitation of root architectural traits in breeding for improved wheat cultivars for water-limited environments.