Mediterranean annual forage mixtures are facing the impact of climate change, especially higher frequencies of winter-time drought. Increased mixture plasticity to climate variability is needed to mitigate this impact. However, little information exists regarding the specificities and complementarities of each forage species component to potentiate mixture resilience under drought. In this study, we identified traits with breeding potential under water scarcity through a detailed characterization of leaf and root-related parameters of 10 legume and grass species components of Mediterranean annual forage mixtures, complemented by their photosynthetic response evaluation under well-watered and water deficit conditions. This integrated approach also allowed us to identify the most resilient species to water deficit. In particular, we found that the highest canopy height and root to shoot ratio of grass components complemented well the highest aerial and root biomass and superior photosynthetic performance of the legume components. Trifolium squarrosum and Triticosecale showed the most adequate combination of traits and the best photosynthetic performance under water deficit within each species family. Although some of these traits are not commonly used in annual forage selection, they may in part explain the potential higher resilience of the grass–legume mixture under water deficit and should be considered in forage breeding.
- Above and below-ground phenotyping
- Climate change
- Grass–legume mixtures
- Resilient annual forage species