In the Sahel zone of West Africa that extends from Senegal to Chad, temperatures can vary from less than 15 °C to 25 °C from November to February. These low temperatures affect the growth, development and yield of rice plants, and therefore constitute a major constraint to rice production in the Sahel. In order to identify rice varieties tolerant to cold stress at different developmental stages, a diverse set of 224 rice germplasm was evaluated for yield and yield-related traits in Ndiaye, Senegal, using three different sowing dates. The first sowing date (October 2010), was chosen so as to expose the rice plants to cold stress at the reproductive stage while the rice crop planted at the second sowing date (January 2011) experienced cold stress at the vegetative stage. The third sowing date (July 2011) was the normal planting date for irrigated rice in the Sahel and it served as the control date when the crop does not experience any cold stress throughout its growth cycle. Among the data collected, significant genetic variation was detected and genotype-by-environment interaction was also significant for the traits. At the vegetative stage, cold stress reduced tillering and plant vigor and delayed flowering but increased yield, whereas at the reproductive stage, aside from delaying flowering, cold stress also inhibited panicle exsertion and reduced panicle length, spikelet fertility, grain filling and strongly reduced yields. Principal Component Analysis and correlation analysis using agro-morphological traits helped to identify genotypes that were tolerant to cold stress at either the vegetative or the reproductive stage and the traits associated with high yield under cold stress at each of these stages. Our results can be used to develop cold tolerant rice varieties adapted to double cropping in the Sahelian zone of West Africa.
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