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Frost tolerance and biochemical changes during hardening and dehardening in contrasting white clover populations


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Successful winter survival of perennial plants, like white clover, is dependent on proper timing of both hardening and dehardening. The purpose of this study was to investigate the regulation of these processes in two cultivars (AberCrest and AberHerald) and two Norwegian ecotypes (Særheim collected at 58°46′N lat. and Bodø at 67°20′N lat.) of white clover (Trifolium repens L.). For hardening and dehardening, plants were exposed to controlled temperature conditions and frost hardiness of stolons was tested by programmed freezing at the rate of 3°C per hour. In addition, stolons were analysed for starch, soluble sugars and soluble amino acids. Cultivars AberCrest and AberHerald, selected for growth at low temperature and winter hardiness in the United Kingdom, were significantly less hardy than the Norwegian populations. After six weeks of hardening (2 weeks at 6°C and 4 weeks at 0.5°C), estimated LT50 values were −13.8, −13.0, −17.8 and −20.3°C for AberCrest, AberHerald, Saerheim and Bodø, respectively. The rate of dehardening increased with increasing temperature. At low temperature (6°C), the northern ecotype from Bodø was more resistant to dehardening than AberHerald. However, at 18°C the absolute rate of dehardening (°C day−1) was twice as high in Bodø as in AberHerald plants. Stolon elongation during dehardening was initiated at lower temperatures in AberHerald than in plants of the Bodø ecotype. The content of total soluble sugars, sucrose and the amino acids proline and arginine were significantly higher in hardy plants of Bodø than in those of AberHerald. Sucrose levels decreased during dehardening and correlations between sucrose content and LT50 during this process were statistically highly significant for both Bodø and AberHerald. The least hardy populations of white clover were characterized by thick stolons, long internodes and large leaves.

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