Comparative Drought Response in Eleven Diverse Alfalfa Accessions

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Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) production is negatively affected by drought stress. This is particularly true for alfalfa grown on non-irrigated rangelands. Thus, the development of drought-tolerant alfalfa cultivars is of great significance. A greenhouse study was conducted to evaluate 11 alfalfa accessions including several that are adapted to rangeland conditions and two commercial accessions, for their performance under drought condition. Water supply was adjusted based on the transpiration rate of individual plants to compensate for 100, 75, 50 or 25 % of transpirational water loss. We found that RS, a naturalized alfalfa collected from the Grand River National Grassland in South Dakota, showed the best resistance to drought condition. It showed the smallest reduction in stem elongation (36 %), relative growth rate (14 %), and shoot dry mass (40 %) production under the severest drought tested in this study relative to the non-drought treatment. While RS showed less biomass production under well-watered conditions, it produced similar or more shoot biomass under drought conditions compared to other accessions. Associated with the drought resistance or less sensitivity to drought, RS showed greater capability to maintain root growth, shoot relative water content, and leaf chlorophyll content compared to other accessions. Different from other accessions, RS showed increasing water use efficiency (WUE) as water deficit became severe, reaching the greatest WUE among 11 accessions. Our results suggest that RS is a valuable genetic resource that can be used to elucidate physiological and molecular mechanisms that determine drought resistance in alfalfa and to develop alfalfa with improved WUE.

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Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science





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