Nitrogen availability is the key determinant of plant growth and development. The improvement of nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) in crops is an important consideration. In fruit and vegetables, such as watermelon, rootstocks are often utilized to control soil borne diseases and improve plant performance to a range of abiotic stresses. In this study, we evaluated the efficacy of 10 wild watermelon rootstocks (ZXG-516, ZXG-941, ZXG-945, ZXG-1250, ZXG-1251, ZXG-1558, ZXG-944, ZXG-1469, ZXG-1463, and ZXG-952) to improve the plant growth and nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) of the watermelon cultivar: Zaojia 8424. Nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is a comprehensive parameter that represents the ability of a plant to absorb nitrogen (N) and convert the supplied resources to the dry biomass. Wild watermelon rootstocks substantially improved plant growth, rate of photosynthesis, stomatal conductivity, intercellular carbon dioxide concentration, rate of transpiration, nitrogen uptake efficiency, nitrogen use efficiency, and nitrogen utilization efficiency of watermelon. NUE of watermelon grafted onto ZXG-945, ZXG-1250, and ZXG-941 was improved by up to 67%, 77%, and 168%, respectively, at optimum N supply. Similarly, at low N supply (0.2 mM), NUE of watermelon grafted onto ZXG-1558 and ZXG-516 was improved by up to 104% and 175%, respectively. In conclusion, grafting onto some wild rootstocks can improve nitrogen use efficiency of watermelon, and this improved nitrogen use efficiency could be attributed to better N uptake efficiency of wild watermelon rootstocks.
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