Shortage of irrigation water at critical melon growth stages can be the most important limiting factor in the future due to climate change, especially in the Mediterranean region. Apart from the improvement of irrigation systems and crop management, the development of drought tolerant cultivars by genetic breeding is the best solution to achieve stable yields. Screening germplasm collections is a prerequisite for that. A melon core collection was evaluated in the current work in two assays. Seven morphological traits were assessed at plantlet stage and compared under drought and standard conditions imposed. Significant differences for all traits were recorded among the sixty accessions evaluated. Clustering analysis also grouped the accessions according to their response to drought, detecting some landraces and wild types of interest, mainly of Indian and African origin, although the best behavior under drought was found in a flexuosus melon from Irak. Some Spanish inodorus landraces also showed better response than the average behavior of commercial types. The employment of this set of traits has allowed screening a large germplasm collection in an easy and non-expensive way, in one of the most sensitive developmental stages.
Key words: Cucumis melo germplasm, morphological seedling traits, abiotic stress, response to drought, variability
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