Forage plants underpin the livestock industry. Selective breeding, including polyploidization, where genome size is increased by whole genome duplication, changes the productivity and stress tolerance of new varieties. We conducted a growth chamber experiment to investigate the likely responses of Lolium perenne L. to drought, testing four diploid and four tetraploid varieties. We simulated projected spring and summer temperatures for the South-West of England in 2080, applying three projected rainfall scenarios, which varied in drought severity. Drought caused a reduction in productivity, but there was substantial variation between varieties (up to 82%), with the optimal variety changing depending on drought severity. Across three harvests, productivity declined by 43% and 27% (dry biomass) for the severe and likely drought scenarios, respectively. In the final harvest, tetraploids exhibited a greater biomass under severe drought, whereas diploids had a greater biomass under the current rainfall and likely drought scenarios. Longer stomata were observed in tetraploids; however, stomatal conductance was not significantly different between ploidy levels. Trait selection will be important for future drought adaptation. Local climate projections will need to be consulted when selecting L. perenne varieties to tolerate the spatially variable reductions in future rainfall.
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