Physiological mechanisms underlying heterosis for shade tolerance in maize

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Heterosis in maize (Zea mays L.) confers stress tolerance. To better understand the physiological mechanisms underlying the differential response of a maize hybrid (CG60 x MBS1236) and its parental inbred lines to shading stress, studies were conducted in a field hydroponic system in Ontario, Canada, from 2004 to 2006. Shading stress consisted of a 55% reduction in incident solar radiation and was implemented either for a 30- to 33-d period before silking starting at the 7-leaf tip stage, a 21-d period during silking, or a 21-d period after silking. Mean reduction in total dry matter at maturity (TDM) due to the shading treatments was 18%, and this reduction was similar for the three shading periods. Heterosis for grain yield was greater when plants were exposed to shading during the presilking and silking periods compared to the unshaded control. This increase was attributable to increased heterosis for both harvest index and TDM. In contrast, shading during the grain-filling period did not increase heterosis for grain yield. Heterosis for grain yield was highly associated with heterosis for kernel number. Heterosis for kernel set was attributable, in part, to the relationship between kernel number and plant growth rate (PGR) during the period bracketing silking and the inherent lower PGR of the inbred lines as compared to the hybrid. Kernel set was also affected by shading during the presilking period, in particular, in one of the two inbred lines.

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