Phenotyping for Nitrogen Use Efficiency: Rice Genotypes Differ in N-Responsive Germination, Oxygen Consumption, Seed Urease Activities, Root Growth, Crop Duration, and Yield at Low N
The biological improvement of fertilizer nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is hampered by the poor characterization of the phenotype and genotype for crop N response and NUE. In an attempt to identify phenotypic traits for N-response and NUE in the earliest stages of plant growth, we analysed the N-responsive germination, respiration, urease activities and root/shoot growth of 21 Indica genotypes of rice (O. sativa var. Indica). We found that N delays germination from 0 to 12 hrs in a genotype-dependent and source-dependent manner, especially with urea and nitrate. We identified contrasting groups of fast germinating genotypes such as Aditya, Nidhi and Swarnadhan, which were also least delayed by N and slow germinating genotypes such as Panvel1, Triguna and Vikramarya, which were also most delayed by N. Oxygen uptake measurements in the seeds of contrasting genotypes revealed that they were affected by N source in accordance with germination rates, especially with urea. Germinating seeds were found to have endogenous urease activity, indicating the need to explore genotypic differences in the effective urea uptake and metabolism, which remain unexplored so far. Urea was found to significantly inhibit early root growth in all genotypes but not shoot growth. Field evaluation of 15 of the above genotypes clearly showed that germination rates, crop duration and yield are linked to NUE. Slow germinating genotypes had longer crop duration and higher yield even at lower N, indicating their higher N use efficiency, relative to fast germinating or short duration genotypes. Moreover, longer duration genotypes suffered lesser yield losses at reduced N levels as compared to short duration genotypes, which is also a measure of their NUE. Together, these results indicate the potential of germination rates, crop duration, urea utilization and its effect on root growth in the development of novel phenotypic traits for screening genotypes and crop improvement for N use efficiency, at least in rice.