Phenology-adjusted stress severity index to assess genotypic responses to terminal drought in field grown potato

Potato is a drought susceptible, often rain-fed crop suffering strongly from even short periods of soil water deficit. With global environmental conditions changing, potato clones resistant to variable water supply are needed and identifying them is a major task. Many indices assessing potato tolerance to water deficit have been proposed, albeit none of them takes into account the severity of the stress or the sensitivity of the developmental stage during which the stress occurs. As a result, data obtained on genotypes in one location or season are normally not useful in another location or in a different season. We have developed an index evaluating yield response of potato to water deficit based on the soil tension the genotype was subjected to for the duration of the stress modified by the development stage of the genotype. The sum of the daily values was combined in a stress severity index (SSI). In total thirteen genotypes differing in duration and sensitivity to drought were subjected to four levels of deficit irrigation on two soil types at different development stages over two years. Early drought (early tuber filling) reduced yields up to 95% whereas late drought (late tuber bulking) reduced yields significantly less. SSI depended on the genotypic phenological development and on the soil tension values and ranges between 25 and 3500. The index differentiated genotypic responses well across treatments and soil types, even with these relatively advanced development stages, up to a value of 1000. Beyond 1000, yields were generally reduced by more than 60% and a differentiation between genotypes was not possible anymore. SSI constitutes a method that renders site, location, year, season, and soil type effects comparable for responses of potato clones to soil water deficit. Combining this measure of stress severity with other proposed indices may improve upon their current weaknesses in finding or identifying the underlying traits of drought tolerance in potato.