The identification of morpho-physiological traits related to drought tolerance and high yield potential is a challenge when selecting sugar beet genotypes with greater tolerance to water stress. In this paper, root morphological parameters, antioxidant systems, leaf relative water content (RWC) and H+-ATPase activity as key morpho-physiological traits involved in drought-tolerance/susceptibility of sugar beet were studied. Genotypes showing a different drought tolerance index (DTI) but a similar yield potential, under moderate (-0.6 Mpa) and severe ( 1.2 MPa) water stress, were selected and their morpho-physiological traits were investigated. The results showed a wide genetic variability in morpho-physiological parameters which demonstrated the different adaptive strategies under moderate and severe drought conditions in sugar beet. In particular, an efficient antioxidant system and redox signalling made some sugar beet genotypes more tolerant to drought stress. The alternative strategy of other genotypes was the reduction of root tissue density which produced a less dense root system improving the axial hydraulic conductivity. These results could be considered as interesting challenge for a better understanding of the drought tolerance mechanisms in sugar beet.
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