Surface temperatures of tropical soils at planting time, where sorghum ( Sorghum bicolor
) is a traditional crop, can exceed 50°C for hours. Seedling heat tolerance is critical for adequate crop establishment in the semi-arid tropics. Improvement of seedlings heat tolerant genotypes would reduce crop losses due to sufficient plant populations. The objectives of this study were to estimate seedling tolerance to heat, determine individual parental contribution and estimate additive, dominance and epistatic effects for seedling tolerance. In our experiments, seedling heat tolerance termed heat tolerance index (HTI) was defined as a ratio of resumed coleoptile growth after a controlled heat shock, compared to normal growth. Genetic parameters of HTI were determined by crossing four lines with varying HTI, with three tester lines, and deriving F1
families for generation means analysis. Line IS20969 from Egypt showed the highest HTI of 0.71, while 290R, an experimental line from the University of Nebraska was the lowest at 0.51. Additive and dominance effects contributed to coleoptile elongation under normal conditions, but only additive effects were significant in recovery growth. Epistatic effects were present in both conditions. General combining ability (GCA) effects for HTI were highly significant in both conditions, but specific combining ability effects were negligible. These results indicate that it is possible to improve seedling heat tolerance and, thus, improve sorghum variety and hybrid plant populations in tropical areas where hot soil temperatures occur.