Alkaline salinity constrains crop yield. Previously, we observed local adaptation of Arabidopsis thaliana to saline-siliceous soils (pH ≤ 7) and to non-saline carbonate soils. However, no natural population of A. thaliana was localized on saline-alkaline soils. This suggests that salinity tolerance evolved on saline-siliceous soils may not confer tolerance to alkaline salinity. This hypothesis was explored by addressing physiological and molecular responses to alkaline salinity of A. thaliana that differ in tolerance to either non-alkaline salinity or carbonate.
A. thaliana native to saline-siliceous soils (high salinity, HS), non-saline carbonate soils (high alkalinity, HA), or soils with intermediate levels of these factors (medium saline-alkalinity, MSA) were cultivated in common gardens on saline-siliceous or saline-calcareous substrates. Hydroponics and irrigation experiments confirmed the phenotypes. The growth, mineral concentrations, proline content, osmotic potential, genetic variation distribution, and expression levels of selected genes involved in salinity and alkalinity tolerance were assessed.
HS performed best on saline-siliceous soil and in hydroponics with salinity (pH 5.9). However, HS was more sensitive to saline-alkaline conditions than HA and MSA. The fitness under saline-alkaline conditions was ranked according to MSA > HA > HS. Under alkaline salinity, MSA best maintained ion homeostasis, osmotic balance, and higher expression levels of key genes involved in saline or alkaline tolerance (AHA1, root HKT1 and FRO2, and shoot NHX1 and IRT1).
In A. thaliana, salinity tolerance evolved on saline-siliceous soils does not provide tolerance to alkaline salinity. Plants native to intermediate conditions (MSA) have more plasticity to adapt to alkaline salinity than those locally adapted to these individual stress factors.