Drought is a major constraint in some rice-growing areas of the United States. Its impact is most severe at the reproductive stage resulting in low grain yield. Therefore, assessment of genetic and phenotypic variation for drought tolerance in US rice germplasm is necessary to accelerate the breeding effort. Evaluation of 205 US rice genotypes for drought tolerance at the reproductive stage revealed tolerant response in rice genotypes Bengal, Jupiter, Cypress, Jazzman, Caffey, and Trenasse. Harvest index and fresh shoot weight were identified as important traits to explain the majority of variability among the genotypes under drought tolerance. Genotyping with 80 SSR markers indicated a low level of genetic diversity in US germplasm. Population structure analysis grouped the genotypes into eight clusters. The genotypes from California, Louisiana, and Arkansas formed distinct subgroups. Texas genotypes were similar to those from Louisiana and Arkansas. Marker-trait association analysis showed significant association of RM570 and RM351 with grain yield, spikelet fertility, and harvest index whereas shoot dry weight showed association with RM302 and RM461. The drought-tolerant genotypes identified in this study and the SSR markers associated with drought tolerance attributes will be helpful for development of improved drought-tolerant rice varieties through marker assisted selection.
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