Drought and salinity are severe abiotic stress factors, which limit plant growth and productivity, particularly in desert regions. In this study, we employed two desert poplars, Populus euphratica Oliver and Populus pruinosa Schrenk seedlings, to compare their tolerance to drought, salinity and combined stress.
We investigated species-specific responses of P. euphratica and P. pruinosa in growth, photosynthetic capacity and pigment contents, nonstructural carbohydrate concentrations, Cl− allocation, osmotic regulation and the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) under drought, salinity and the combined stress.
Populus pruinosa exhibited greater growth inhibitory effects, photosynthesis decline, stomatal closure and ROS accumulation, and lower antioxidant enzyme activities and osmotic regulation compared with P. euphratica under drought, salinity and especially under their combined stress. On the other hand, salt-stressed P. euphratica plants restricted salt transportation from roots to leaves, and allocated more Cl− to coarse roots and less to leaves, whereas salt-stressed P. pruinosa allocated more Cl− to leaves. It was shown that there is species-specific variation in these two desert poplars, and P. pruinosa suffers greater negative effects compared with P. euphratica under drought, salinity and especially under the combined stress. Therefore, in ecological restoration and afforestation efforts, species-specific responses and tolerances of these two poplar species to drought and salinity should be considered under climate change with increasing drought and soil salinity developing.