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Source-sink balance and manipulating sink-source relations of wheat indicate that the yield potential of wheat is sink-limited in high-rainfall zones

Zhang, Heping, Turner, Neil C., Poole, Michael L.
Crop & pasture science 2010 v.61 no.10 pp. 852-861
Chara, breeding lines, carbohydrates, crops, cultivars, drought, filling period, flowering, grain yield, inflorescences, irrigation water, leaves, photosynthesis, seeds, solar radiation, stems, water supply, wheat, Australia
Grain yield depends on the number of grains per unit area (sink) and the availability of assimilates (source) to fill these grains. The aim of the current work was to determine whether wheat yield in the high-rainfall zone of south-western Australia is limited in current cultivars by the size of the sink or by the assimilates available for grain filling. Three wheat cultivars (Calingiri, Chara and Wyalkatchem) and two breeding lines (HRZ216 and HRZ203) were grown in four replicates in the field from 2005 to 2007. Dry matter and water soluble carbohydrates (WSC) at anthesis and maturity were measured and used to determine the source and sink balance of the crop. In 2007, three further treatments were applied to manipulate the sink-source relationships: (i) spikelets were removed on main stems to increase the source:sink ratio; (ii) incoming solar radiation was reduced by 40% by shading after anthesis to reduce the availability of assimilates to grains; and (iii) supplemental irrigation was used to maintain the capacity for photosynthesis by an improved water supply during grain filling. The source-sink balance of the crops showed that the potential source was 25% greater than the actual grain yield in average and above-average seasons (2005 and 2007), suggesting that sink size, represented by the number of grain per unit area, was a limiting factor to yield potential. However, the source may have become a limiting factor in a drought season (2006). The grain yield increased with increased number of grains/m² and kernel weight remained relatively stable even when grain number increased from 7000 to 16000perm². The removal of half of the spikelets on the main stem did not increase kernel mass of the remaining grains and an additional 33mm of irrigation water did not increase grain yield, but significantly (P<0.05) increased WSC left in stems and leaf sheaths at maturity. Shading after anthesis did not significantly reduce grain yield of the current cultivars Calingiri and Wyalkatchem, but it reduced grain yield by 23-25% (P<0.05) in Chara and HRZ203. The source-sink balance over three seasons and three independent experiments in 2007 suggested that the yield of the current wheat cultivars is more sink- than source-limited and that breeding wheat with a larger sink size than in the current cultivars may lift the yield potential of wheat in the high-rainfall zone of south-western Australia.