Drought and heat stress are two major constraints that limit chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) yield, particularly during seed filling. The present study aimed (i) to assess the individual and combined effects of drought and heat stress on oxidative metabolism during seed filling, and (ii) to determine any genetic variation in oxidative metabolism among genotypes differing in drought and heat tolerance and sensitivity. The plants were raised in outdoor conditions with two different times of sowing, one in November (normal-sown, temperatures <32°C−20°C (day–night) during seed filling), and the other in February (late-sown, temperatures >32°C−20°C (day–night) during seed filling). Plants were regularly irrigated to prevent any water shortage until the water treatments were applied. At both sowing times, the drought treatment was applied during seed filling (at ∼75% podding) by withholding water from half of the pots until the relative leaf water content (RLWC) of leaves on the top three branches reached 42–45%, whereas leaves in the fully irrigated control plants were maintained at RLWC 85–90%. Drought-stressed plants were then rewatered and maintained under fully irrigated conditions until maturity. Several biochemical parameters were measured on the leaves and seeds at the end of the stress treatments, and seed yield and aboveground biomass were measured at maturity. Individual and combined stresses damaged membranes, and decreased PSII function and leaf chlorophyll content, more so under the combined stress treatment. The levels of oxidative molecules (malondialdehyde (MDA) and H2O2) markedly increased compared with the control plants in all stress treatments, especially across genotypes in the combined heat drought stress treatment (increases in leaves: MDA 5.4–8.4-fold and H2O2 5.1–7.1-fold; in seeds: MDA 1.9–3.3-fold and H2O2 3.8–7.9-fold). The enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants related to oxidative metabolism increased under individual stress treatments but decreased in the combined heat drought stress treatment. Leaves had higher oxidative damage than seeds, and this likely inhibited their photosynthetic efficiency. Yields were reduced more by drought stress than by heat stress, with the lowest yields in the combined heat drought stress treatment. Heat- and drought-tolerant genotypes suffered less damage and had higher yields than the heat- and drought-sensitive genotypes under the individual and combined stress treatments, suggesting partial cross-tolerance in these genotypes. A drought-tolerant genotype ICC8950 produced more seed yield under the combined heat drought stress than other genotypes, and this was associated with low oxidative damage in leaves and seeds.
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Vol. 68 • No. 9