Stress tolerance and persistence of perennial grasses: the role of the summer dormancy trait in temperate Australia
The significantly lower annual rainfall experienced in Australia over the past decade together with projections of long-term climate change has placed increased emphasis on the use of pasture plants with superior tolerance to environmental stress, particularly drought, to ensure persistence for the grazing industries. Summer dormancy is one of the more important traits that grasses have to adapt to environments where there is little, variable, or no summer rainfall. In this article, the role that the summer dormancy trait has played in enhancing the survival of temperate perennial grasses in Australia is reviewed with special reference to orchardgrass (cocksfoot; Dactylis glomerata L.) and tall fescue [Lolium arundinaceum (Schreb.) Darbysh.]. The performance of cultivars and populations with this trait is assessed in comparison to germplasm without the trait. Other major factors such as the contribution of rooting depth to stress tolerance and their possible relationship with summer dormancy are documented and evaluated. Current knowledge of the physiological basis by which summer dormancy improves survival of summer drought is also summarized.