Aims In China, peanut (Arachis hypogaea) is mainly cultivated in the semi-arid and rain-fed areas, and drought is the most prominent environmental stress to its growth. However, studies on the physiological responses of different peanut cultivars to drought and re-watering are lacking. Our objectives were to investigate the relationship between photosynthetic characteristics and drought tolerance, and to explore the ability to recover from drought damage in different peanut cultivars.
Methods A pot experiment was conducted with artificial water stress treatment, and the photosynthetic characteristics were determined in twelve peanut cultivars under the conditions of drought stress and re-watering at the seedling stage. The drought tolerance was assessed by drought resistance coefficient of biomass in seedling. The recovery capacity was assessed by compensatory growth of plant.
Important findings Five cultivars, including ‘Shanhua 11’, ‘Rugaoxiyangsheng’, ‘A596’, ‘Shanhua 9’, and ‘Nongda 818’, showed over-compensatory growth after re-watering, and their capacity of compensatory growth had significant positive correlation with drought tolerance (p < 0.01). The net photosynthetic rate (Pn), stomatal conductance (Gs), intercellular CO2 concentration (Ci), maximum photochemical efficiency (Fv/Fm), PSII actual quantum yield (ΦPSII), and photochemical quenching coefficient (qP) all decreased over the course of drought stress, and then increased following re-watering, with the amplitude of changes being smaller in the more drought tolerant cultivars. Seven days of drought did not result in significant differences in the photosynthetic characteristics among majority of the peanut cultivars tested (p > 0.05). After 14 days of drought, the values of photosynthetic variables differed significantly among the peanut cultivars with different drought tolerance (p < 0.05). The values of Pn, Gs, ΦPSII, Fv/Fm, and qP in the cultivars ‘Shanhua 11’, ‘Rugaoxiyangsheng’, ‘A596’, and ‘Shanhua 9’ fully recovered five days after re-watering, while those in the cultivars ‘79266’, ‘ICG6848’, ‘Baisha 1016’, and ‘Hua 17’ did not fully recover even after 10 days of re-watering; the values of those photosynthetic variables were significantly greater (p < 0.05) in the more drought tolerant cultivars following re-watering. Correlation analysis showed that the drought tolerance was significantly and positively correlated with Pn, ΦPSII, Fv/Fm, and qP after 14 days of drought stress and after five days of re-watering, respectively (p < 0.01). Therefore, under drought stress at 40% of relative water content (RWC) for 14 days and after five days of re-watering at the seedling stage, the Pn, ΦPSII, Fv/Fm, and qP could be used for identifying the level of damage and recovery capacity of peanut cultivars. The cultivar ‘Shanhua 11’ can be used as a reference for drought adaptability identification in peanut.