Genotypic variation in soil water use and root distribution and their implications for drought tolerance in chickpea
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Chickpeas are often grown under receding soil moisture and suffer ~50% yield losses due to drought stress. The timing of soil water use is considered critical for the efficient use of water under drought and to reduce yield losses. Therefore the root growth and the soil water uptake of 12 chickpea genotypes known for contrasts in drought and rooting response were monitored throughout the growth period both under drought and optimal irrigation. Root distribution reduced in the surface and increased in the deep soil layers below 30 cm in response to drought. Soil water uptake was the maximum at 45–60 cm soil depth under drought whereas it was the maximum at shallower (15–30 and 30–45 cm) soil depths when irrigated. The total water uptake under drought was 1-fold less than optimal irrigation. The amount of water left unused remained the same across watering regimes. All the drought sensitive chickpea genotypes were inferior in root distribution and soil water uptake but the timing of water uptake varied among drought tolerant genotypes. Superiority in water uptake in most stages and the total water use determined the best adaptation. The water use at 15–30 cm soil depth ensured greater uptake from lower depths and the soil water use from 90–120 cm soil was critical for best drought adaptation. Root length density and the soil water uptake across soil depths were closely associated except at the surface or the ultimate soil depths of root presence.