Control of Kernel Weight and Kernel Water Relations by Post‐flowering Source–sink Ratio in Maize
, Westgate M.E.
, Otegui M.E.
Annals of Botany
, 2003. V. 91. No. 7. P. 857–867
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The maize (Zea mays L.) kernel undergoes large changes in water content during its development. Whether such changes regulate the pattern of kernel development or are simply a consequence of it has not yet been established because other factors, such as assimilate supply, can also affect the rate and duration of kernel growth. This study was conducted to determine whether variation in kernel weight (KW) in response to source–sink treatments is mediated by a change in kernel water relations. Two hybrids were sown at three stand densities (one, eight and 18 plants m–2), and kernel numbers were restricted to control the post‐flowering source–sink ratio within each stand density. Kernel development and water relations [water content, water potential (ψw), osmotic potential (ψs) and turgor] were monitored throughout grain filling. Final KW varied from 253 to 372 mg per kernel in response to source–sink treatments. For both genotypes, variation in KW was a result of a change in kernel growth rate (r2 = 0·91; P < 0·001) and not in the duration of kernel filling. Final KW was closely correlated with maximum kernel water content (r2 = 0·94; P < 0·001) achieved during rapid dry matter accumulation. However, variation in KW was not reflected in kernel water status parameters (ψw, ψs or turgor), which remained fairly stable across treatments. These results indicate that maximum water content provides an easily quantifiable measure of kernel sink capacity in maize. Kernel water status parameters may affect the duration of grain filling, but have no discernible impact on kernel growth rate.