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Coping with drought: root trait variability within the perennial grass Dactylis glomerata captures a trade-off between dehydration avoidance and dehydration tolerance

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Background and aims

Understanding plant adaptation to drought is a crucial challenge under climate change. This study aimed to investigate root traits and water use of grass populations exhibiting a range of dehydration avoidance and tolerance strategies to cope with drought.


Sixteen populations of the perennial grass Dactylis glomerata originating from three biogeographical origins (Northern, Temperate and Mediterranean) were grown in long tubes. Plant biomass, rooting depth and morphological traits of deep roots were measured both under full irrigation and under severe drought. Water uptake under drought was used as a proxy for dehydration avoidance. Plant survival after severe drought was used as a measure of dehydration tolerance.


All populations had similar maximum rooting depth and specific root length. Compared to Northern and Temperate populations, Mediterranean populations had half the total and deep root biomass, but thinner and denser deep roots. They were less affected by drought. These traits were associated with less water uptake (lower dehydration avoidance) but greater survival to severe drought (enhanced dehydration tolerance).


The intraspecific variability in root traits revealed a trade-off between dehydration avoidance and dehydration tolerance which illustrates contrasting adaptive plant and root strategies associated with the biogeographical origins of populations.

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Thanks to Pascal Chapon for excellent technical assistance, and to the ‘Terrain d’experience’ platform and the Plateforme d’Analyses Chimiques en Ecologie both at CEFE-CNRS (Labex CEMEB). Thanks to Mark Norton and anonymous reviewers for their relevant comments and text editing. Thanks to Hervé Gaillard (Unité Sciences du Sol, INRA Orleans) for soil analysis. Pauline Bristiel was financially supported by INRA (EA department). This study was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant Project ‘Ecophysiological and biophysical constraints on domestication in crop plants’ [Grant ERC-StG-2014-639706-CONSTRAINTS].

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Correspondence to Florence Volaire.

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Responsible Editor: Ian Dodd.

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Table S1

List of the 16 populations of Dactylis glomerata. Climatic data associated with their origins were collected from the WorldClim data set (; Hijmans et al., 2005). Seeds from Northern populations were provided by the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen). Temperate ecotypes and cultivars, and population ‘Porto’, were provided by the plant genetic resources information system of the National Institute for Agronomical Research (INRA, France, Lusignan). The Sicilian ecotype came from University of Catania, Italy. The Moroccan ecotypes came from INRA Rabat, Morocco. (DOCX 14 kb)

Table S2

Mean and range of the traits measured under irrigation or under drought on 16 populations of D. glomerata. (DOCX 40 kb)

Table S3

Root biomass distribution in soil columns (0-200 cm): Mean and standard deviation of root biomass for each 25cm layer for Northern, Temperate and Mediterranean populations of D. glomerata under drought or irrigation. (DOCX 14 kb)

Table S4

Correlations between the total water use measured under drought and eleven traits measured under irrigation or under drought. The R coefficient of Pearson correlations were represented with associated P-value (*, P < 0.05; **, P < 0.01; ***, P < 0.001; ns: not significant). (DOCX 42 kb)

Figure S5

Mean values and standard errors of dehydration tolerance (plant survival rate in short pots after severe drought) measured on 16 populations of D. glomerata from different origins: Northern in blue, Temperate in green and Mediterranean in red. Letters indicate significant differences between origins (Kruskal-Wallis test; P < 0.05). (PDF 22 kb)

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Bristiel, P., Roumet, C., Violle, C. et al. Coping with drought: root trait variability within the perennial grass Dactylis glomerata captures a trade-off between dehydration avoidance and dehydration tolerance. Plant Soil 434, 327–342 (2019).

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