Mycorrhizal colonisation improves fruit yield and water use efficiency in watermelon (Citrullus lanatus Thunb.) grown under well-watered and water-stressed conditions
The effect of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) colonisation by Glomus clarum on fruit yield and water use efficiency (WUE) was evaluated in watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) cv. Crimson Sweet F1 under field conditions. Treatments were: (1) well-watered plants without mycorrhizae (WW-M), (2) well-watered plants with mycorrhizae (WW+M), (3) water- stressed plants without mycorrhizae (WS-M) and (4) water-stressed plants with mycorrhizae (WS+M). When soil water tension readings reached -20 and -50 kPa for well-watered (WW) and water-stressed (WS) treatments, respectively, irrigation was initiated to restore the top soil to near field capacity. Water stress reduced watermelon shoot and root dry matter, fruit yield, water use efficiency but not total soluble solids (TSS) in the fruit, compared with the non-stressed treatments. Mycorrhizal plants had significantly higher biomass and fruit yield compared to nonmycorrhizal plants, whether plants were water stressed or not. AM colonisation increased WUE in both WW and WS plants. Macro- (N, P, K, Ca and Mg) and micro- (Zn, Fe and Mn) nutrient concentrations in the leaves were significantly reduced by water stress. Mycorrhizal colonisation of WS plants restored leaf nutrient concentrations to levels in WW plants in most cases. This is the first report of the mitigation of the adverse effect of water stress on yield and quality of a fruit crop.