Cowpea seed quality in response to production site and water stress.
Odindo, Alfred Oduor.
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Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata. L) is an important African crop. However, it is also an underutilized grain legume. Consequently, there is not enough research data on cowpea seed physiology. Whereas there is evidence of cowpea being a drought tolerant crop, there is no evidence to associate plant drought tolerance with seed quality in response to water stress. This study sought to understand the effect of production site and water stress on cowpea seed quality development with respect to germination capacity and vigour. Patterns of raffinose family of oligosaccharides (RFO) during seed development to mature dry stage were used to physiologically relate seed performance to water stress. The effect of water stress and exogenous ABA on the accumulation of stress LEA proteins (dehydrins) in relation to seed quality development and germination was investigated. RFOs are known for their roles in desiccation sensitivity but no studies have shown their significance in cowpeas. Seeds of six cowpea cultivars were produced at two distinct growth sites characterised by irrigated and dry land conditions. The seeds were assessed during six developmental stages, for water content, dry matter accumulation, and performance. Harvested seeds were then planted in a pot experiment under controlled conditions to examine the effect of water stress on seed quality development and data collected during three developmental stages. Harvested seeds from the pot experiment were subsequently analyzed for changes in RFO accumulation during development using gas chromatography. The seeds were also used to investigate the effect of water stress and ABA on the accumulation of stress LEA proteins (dehydrins) in relation to seed quality development in cowpea. In addition, this study evaluated the use of image analysis as a method that can be used to objectively determine seed coat colour variation in cowpea. Statistical variation in individual seed’s solute leakage for cowpea cultivars differing in seed coat colour and produced under different environmental conditions was explored and correlations were done between seed conductivity test with other aspects of seed performance during germination. Furthermore the results of the conductivity test were compared with accelerated aging test, in relation to seed performance. The study provided evidence that cowpea seed lots produced under different environmental, and possibly management conditions may not differ with respect to seed quality as determined by germination capacity and vigour. However, significant differences between sites with respect to seed maturation patterns determined by water content and dry matter accumulation were observed. Adverse maternal environmental effects on the subsequent performance of seeds in a drought tolerant crop may not necessarily lead to poor performance. Cultivar differences in response to simulated drought conditions at the whole plant and tissue level can be considerable and highly variable; however, these differences may not have adverse effects on the germination and vigour of the seeds. Drought avoidance mechanisms at the whole plant level in cowpea are quite efficient in allowing the species to adapt to simulated drought conditions. These mechanisms may allow the cowpea cultivars to maintain metabolism and restore conditions for their continued growth under water stress; and produce few seeds of high germination capacity and vigour. Stachyose was found to be the predominant member of the raffinose family of oligosaccharides in cowpea. It is suggested that stachyose accumulation could be used as an indicator of stress tolerance in cowpea. However, the relationship between RFO concentration and the acquisition of desiccation remained as a matter of speculation in the present study and is still generally inconclusive. There was no evidence to suggest the acquisition of maximum desiccation tolerance is associated with maximum seed vigour. It is suggested in cowpea, which is drought tolerant, that maximum vigour does not necessarily imply the acquisition of maximum desiccation tolerance; rather there is a minimum level of desiccation tolerance that is required for the development of optimal seed vigour. The use of an in vivo approach in the study of LEA function in cowpea enabled the accurate comparison of two different groups of LEA proteins in developing cowpea seeds under conditions of water stress and in relation to germination and vigour. Both group 1 LEA and group 2 LEA (dehydrin) were shown to increase in concentration in response to water stress. In addition group 1 LEA protein was observed to be relatively abundant in cowpea seeds. A maternal influence on LEA protein gene expression under conditions of water stress, which may induce dehydrin accumulation vii during the earlier stages of seed development, was implied by the observation that dehydrin-like proteins were induced after two weeks of development in cowpea plants subjected to stress during the vegetative phase. In addition, the exogenous application of ABA delayed radicle protrusion; this was associated with a delay in the disappearance of LEA proteins and is suggestive of a relationship between LEA protein accumulation and the acquisition of desiccation tolerance. The study has demonstrated that image analysis can objectively discriminate seed coat colour variation in cowpea. Dark coloured seeds in general performed better than light coloured seeds; however seed coat colour was not always associated with better performance. A newly developed Aging Stress Differential Index (ASDI) has been used in this study to demonstrate a link between seed coat colour and sensitivity to water stress. The ASDI correlated well with the observations relating stress tolerance to stachyose accumulation. The skewed distribution patterns in individual electrical conductivity and the presence of extreme values may have implications with respect to the suitability of using standard statistical analyses which compare mean values to evaluate such data. In addition variation in individual electrical conductivity may also be influenced by cultivar differences and the chemical composition of the seed coat. Therefore associations between seed coat colour and electrical conductivity as a measure of performance should be treated with caution. The AA test does reflect changes in seed vigour, however ranked electrical conductivity values after AA did not consistently reflect differences in seed performance between cultivars and sites, and they did not correlate well with other aspects of performance.
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