Adaptation to edaphic stress may have a key role in plant species range expansion. Aegilops tauschii Coss., the common wheat's D-genome progenitor native to the Transcaucasus-Middle East region, is a good model to study the relationships between soil salinity and plant distributions: one of its intraspecific sublineages, TauL1b, drove the long-distance eastward expansion of this species range reaching semi-arid-central Asia. Salt tolerance during germination and seedling growth was evaluated in 206 Ae. tauschii accessions by treating seeds with NaCl solutions differing in concentrations. Differences in natural variation patterns were analyzed between sublineages and associated with natural edaphic condition variables, and then compared with reproductive trait variation patterns. The natural variations observed in NaCl-induced-stress tolerance had clear geographic and genetic structure. Seedling growth significantly increased in the TauL1b accessions that were collected from salt-affected soil habitats, whereas germinability did not. Principal component analysis suggested that the NaCl-induced-stress tolerances and reproductive traits might have had a similar degree of influence on Ae. tauschii's eastward range expansion. Adaptation to salt-affected soils through increased seedling growth was an important factor for the species' successful colonization of the semi-arid central Asian habitats. TauL1b accessions might provide useful genetic resources for salt-tolerant wheat breeds.
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