Plant and Soil

, Volume 272, Issue 1–2, pp 101–110 | Cite as

Kernel set in maize genotypes differing in nitrogen use efficiency in response to resource availability around flowering

  • I. A. Paponov
  • P. Sambo
  • G. Schulte auf′m. Erley
  • T. Presterl
  • H. H. Geiger
  • C. Engels


Environmental conditions affect grain yield in maize (Zea mays L.) mainly by altering the kernel number per plant (KNP). This number is determined during a critical period of about 2 weeks around silking. The objectives of this study were to assess how the rate and timing of nitrogen (N) fertilizer applications affect biomass partitioning and KNP in two genotypes with different N use efficiency, and to compare kernel set of these genotypes under varying regimes of carbohydrate and N availability during the critical period for kernel set. In the first field experiment, plant density and the rate of N supply per plant were varied independently. In the second field experiment, N availability was controlled via the application of N fertilizer, and carbohydrate availability was controlled by shading or thinning at silking. In both experiments, low rates of N supply reduced KNP more strongly in the non-efficient genotype when compared to the efficient genotype. The genotypic differences in kernel set were neither associated with N uptake into the above-ground biomass at maturity, nor above-ground biomass at silking. In the non-efficient genotype, application of N fertilizer at silking increased KNP. This increase was not associated with an increase in plant growth but with increased partitioning of biomass towards the reproductive organs during the critical period for kernel set. The genotype which had been selected for its high N use efficiency also showed higher kernel set at high plant density and shading during flowering when compared to the non-efficient genotype. Under conditions of restricted resource availability per plant, plant and ear growth rates during the critical period of about 14 days after onset of flowering declined compared with non-limiting conditions. However, these growth rates were less reduced in the efficient genotype. Pooling treatments of different plant density and different available N, each hybrid showed linear responses of KNP to plant growth rate and to ear growth rate. Furthermore, in the efficient genotype KNP was reduced to a lesser extent in response to decreasing growth rates. We conclude that higher kernel set of the efficient genotype compared to the non-efficient genotype under stressful conditions was associated with low sensitivity of plant growth and dry matter distribution towards reproductive organs to low assimilate availability during the critical period of kernel set, and particularly with low sensitivity of kernel set to decreasing plant and ear growth rates.


genotype kernel set maize nitrogen nitrogen use efficiency 



days after sowing


kernel number per plant.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • I. A. Paponov
    • 1
  • P. Sambo
    • 2
  • G. Schulte auf′m. Erley
    • 1
  • T. Presterl
    • 3
  • H. H. Geiger
    • 3
  • C. Engels
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute of Biology II, Cell BiologyUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgSwitzerland
  2. 2.Dep. Agronomia Ambientale e Produzioni VegetaliUniversità di PadovaLegnaro (PD)Italy
  3. 3.Institute of Plant Breeding, Seed Science, and Population GeneticsUniversity of HohenheimStuttgartGermany
  4. 4.Institute of Plant NutritionHumboldt University of BerlinBerlinGermany

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