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Maize prolificacy under contrasting plant densities and N supplies: II. Growth per plant, biomass partitioning to apical and sub-apical ears during the critical period and kernel setting
Field Crops Research  (IF6.145),  Pub Date : 2022-05-13, DOI: 10.1016/j.fcr.2022.108557
Karina Elizabeth D’Andrea, Martín Parco, Gustavo Ángel Maddonni

Maize (Zea mays L.) prolificacy (i.e., more than one fertile ear per plant) is a source of reproductive plasticity that contributes to increase or sustain crop grain yield when plant density is reduced in drought-prone environments. The rare use of N fertilization, however, can limit prolificacy. In a companion paper we studied floret differentiation and biomass allocation in apical (E1) and sub-apical ear (E2) and flowering dynamics of five maize hybrids with contrasting prolificacy under different plant densities and N supplies. Briefly, after apex induction, E1 and E2 of the most prolific hybrids (DK-3F22, DK-4F37 and DK-664) had similar temporal patterns of growth and floret differentiation. On the contrary, E2 in the less prolific hybrids (DK-747 and DK-7210) had less biomass allocation and floret differentiation than E1, which were reduced under low soil N supply, resulting in a fewer proportion of plants with silk extrusion of E2. In this work, we explore the relationships between (i) kernel number per plant vs the growth rates of plants around flowering, (ii) growth rate of ears vs plant growth rate around flowering (i.e. biomass partitioning to E1 and E2), (iii) kernel number of E1 and E2 vs the growth rates of ears around flowering (i.e. reproductive efficiency of E1 and E2), and (iv) kernel number and prolificacy vs flowering synchrony (i.e., ASI: anthesis-silking interval and ESI: ear silking interval between E1 and E2). For all hybrids, N supply modulated plant growth rate and biomass partitioning to both ears around flowering, kernel number per unit of plant growth rate around flowering and reproductive efficiency of E2, with no impact on the reproductive efficiency of E1. Reductions of kernel number per plant were related to failures of early emerged silks (of E1 under low N supply and of E2 under both N supplies) to set kernels. Failures in kernel setting of E2 were also related to a reduced biomass partitioning to E2 around flowering. Higher ASIE1 values described crops with lower kernel numbers of E1, while higher ESI values depicted both a lower proportion of plants with more than one fertile ear (i.e., prolificacy) and lower kernel numbers of E2. Results complement evidence from the companion paper of the role of N supply on plant biomass production and biomass partitioning to E2 from early floral development stages to the period around flowering, and on the reproductive efficiency of E2. Consequently, N supply must be ensured from early vegetative stages of low-density maize crops, so as not to compromise prolificacy and E2 kernel setting.