Differences in yield physiology between modern, well adapted durum wheat cultivars grown under contrasting conditions
Abstract Yield differences among wheat cultivars and its responsiveness to resource availability are usually related to grain number per m 2 , and further increases in grain number are required, but now beyond differences in time to anthesis and plant height (that are mostly optimised in traditional growing regions). The objective of this paper was to determine and quantify differences in yield physiology between different modern well adapted durum wheats grown in contrasting conditions (in addition we also tested if a higher amount of resources due to removal of competition could affect yield through the same determinants to nitrogen (N) availability). Four experiments were carried out during two growing seasons (2008–09 and 2009–2010); all in all under eight different growing conditions (Gc1–Gc8). In the first season four different modern cultivars were used and in the second season we selected the two highest-yielding cultivars, which differed in their responses to N in terms of spike fertility. Yield was closely related to biomass and N uptake due to both growing conditions and genotypic effects in all experiments. The existence of variation among modern cultivars in these yield determinants is relevant as further increases in yield must be achieved beyond further increases in partitioning. Yield differences among cultivars were based on their differences in grains per m 2 or average grain weight depending on which cultivars were compared. Overall grain number was related to spike dry weight at anthesis, and no evidences were found for a direct involvement of N in grain number determination, beyond the general effect of N availability on spike dry matter. However, this overall effect was mainly driven by growing conditions whilst differences between genotypes seemed associated with either spike dry weight at anthesis or fruiting efficiency, which varied significantly between cultivars. Interestingly, grain weight was consistently higher in the cultivars with lower fruiting efficiency than in cultivars maximising the number of grains set per unit of spike dry weight at anthesis suggesting a constitutive component for the commonly reported negative relationship between grain weight and grain number. In conclusion, the main differences in yield between modern, well adapted wheats were related to their biomass and N uptake and to the sink-strength during post-anthesis, being this strength increased either by having more grains or grains of potentially greater size, depending on the specific cultivar and as a consequence of a trade-off between fruiting efficiency and grain size.