The need for sustainable intensification of agriculture in the coming decades requires a reduction in nitrogen (N) fertilization. One opportunity to reduce N application rates without major losses in yield is breeding for nutrient efficient crops. A key parameter that influences nutrient uptake efficiency is the root system architecture (RSA). To explore the impact of N availability on RSA and to investigate the impact of the growth environment, a diverse set of 36 inbred dent maize lines crossed to the inbred flint line UH007 as a tester was evaluated for N-response over 2 years on three different sites. RSA was investigated by excavating and imaging of the root crowns followed by image analysis with REST software. Despite strong site and year effects, trait heritability was generally high. Root traits showing the greatest heritability (> 0.7) were the width of the root stock, indicative of the horizontal expansion, and the fill factor, a measure of the density of the root system. Heritabilities were in a similar range under high or low N application. Under N deficiency the root stock size decreased, the horizontal expansion decreased and the root stock became less dense. However, there was little differential response of the genotypes to low N availability. Thus, the assessed root traits were more constitutively expressed rather than showing genotype-specific plasticity to low N. In contrast, strong differences were observed for ‘stay green’ and silage yield, indicating that these highly heritable traits are good indicators for responsiveness to low N.
- Abiotic stress
- Genotype environment interaction
- Root system architecture