Saline soils are highly heterogeneous in time and space, and this is a critical factor influencing plant physiology and productivity. Temporal changes in soil salinity can alter plant responses to salinity, and pre-treating plants with low NaCl concentrations has been found to substantially increase salt tolerance in different species in a process called acclimation. However, it still remains unclear whether this process is common to all plants or is only expressed in certain genotypes. We addressed this question by assessing the physiological changes to 100 mM NaCl in two contrasting olive cultivars (the salt-sensitive Leccino and the salt-tolerant Frantoio), following a 1-month acclimation period with 5 or 25 mM NaCl. The acclimation improved salt tolerance in both cultivars, but activated substantially different physiological adjustments in the tolerant and the sensitive cultivars. In the tolerant Frantoio the acclimation with 5 mM NaCl was more effective in increasing plant salt tolerance, with a 47% increase in total plant dry mass compared with non-acclimated saline plants. This enhanced biomass accumulation was associated with a 50% increase in K+ retention ability in roots. On the other hand, in the sensitive Leccino, although the acclimation process did not improve performance in terms of plant growth, pre-treatment with 5 and 25 mM NaCl substantially decreased salt-induced leaf cell ultrastructural changes, with leaf cell relatively similar to those of control plants. Taken together these results suggest that in the tolerant cultivar the acclimation took place primarily in the root tissues, while in the sensitive they occurred mainly at the shoot level.

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