Biomass Allocation Variation Under Different Nitrogen and Water Treatments in Wheat

2019-08-16T14:41:06Z (GMT) by Seth A Tolley

Wheat is among the most important cereal crops in the world today with respect to the area harvested (219 million ha), production (772 million tonnes), and productivity (3.53 tons/ha). However, global wheat production goals for the coming decades are falling short of needed increases. Among the leading factors hindering yields is abiotic stress which is present in nearly 38% of wheat acres globally. Nevertheless, many standard wheat breeding programs focus on yield and yield related traits (i.e. grain yield, plant height, and test weight) in ideal environments rather than evaluating traits that could lead to enhanced abiotic stress tolerance. In this thesis, we explore the use of root and high-throughput phenotyping strategies to aid in further development of abiotic stress tolerant varieties.

In the first three experiments, root phenotypes were evaluated in two nitrogen (N) treatments. Over a series of seedling, adult, and multiple-growth-stage destructive plant biomass measurements, above-ground and below-ground traits were analyzed in seven geographically diverse wheat accessions. Root and shoot biomass allocation in fourteen-day-old seedlings were analyzed using paper-roll-supported hydroponic culture in two Hoagland solutions containing 0.5 (low) and 4.0 (high) mM of N. Root traits were digitized using a WINRhizo platform. For biomass analysis at maturity, plants were grown in 7.5-liter pots filled with soil mix using the same concentrations of N. Traits were measured as plants reached maturity. In the third N experiment, above- and below-ground traits were measured at four-leaf stage, stem elongation, heading, post-anthesis, and maturity. At maturity, there was a ~15-fold difference between lines with the largest and smallest root dry matter. However, only ~5-fold difference was observed between genotypes for above-ground biomass. In the third experiment, root growth did not significantly change from stem elongation to maturity.

In the final experiment, two of these lines were selected for further evaluation under well-watered and drought treatments. This experiment was implemented in a completely randomized design in the Controlled Environment Phenotyping Facility (CEPF) at Purdue University. The differential water treatments were imposed at stem elongation and continued until post-anthesis, when all plants were destructively phenotyped. Image-based height and side-projected area were associated with height and shoot dry matter with correlations of r=1 and r=0.98, respectively. Additionally, 81% of the variation in tiller number was explained using convex hull and side-projected area. Image-based phenotypes were used to model crop growth temporally, through which one of the lines was identified as being relatively more drought tolerant. Finally, the use of the Munsell Color System was explored to investigate drought response.

These experiments illustrate the value of phenotyping and the use of novel phenotyping strategies in wheat breeding to increase adaptation and development of lines with enhanced abiotic tolerance.