Phenotypic variation in leaf photosynthetic traits, leaf area index, and carbon discrimination of field-grown wheat genotypes and their relationship with yield performance in Mediterranean environments
Main conclusionLeaf water potential, gas exchange, and chlorophyll fluorescence exhibited significant differences among genotypes, high environmental effects, but low heritability. The highest-yielding and drought-tolerant genotypes presented superior harvest index and grain weight, compared to drought-susceptible ones.Physiological phenotyping can help identify useful traits related to crop performance under water-limited conditions. A set of fourteen bread wheat genotypes with contrasting grain yield (GY) was studied in eight Mediterranean environments in Chile, resulting from the combination of two sites (Cauquenes and Santa Rosa), two water conditions (rainfed-WL and irrigated-WW), and four growing seasons (2015-2018). The objectives were to (i) evaluate the phenotypic variation of leaf photosynthetic traits after heading (anthesis and grain filling) in different environments; (ii) analyze the relationship between GY and leaf photosynthetic traits and carbon isotope discrimination (Delta C-13); and (iii) identify those traits that could have a greater impact in the determination of tolerant genotypes under field conditions. Agronomic traits exhibited significant genotypic differences and genotype x environment (GxE) interaction. The average GY under the WW condition at Santa Rosa was 9.2 Mg ha(-1) (range 8.2-9.9 Mg ha(-1)) and under the WL condition at Cauquenes was 6.2 Mg ha(-1) (range 3.7-8.3 Mg ha(-1)). The GY was closely related to the harvest index (HI) in 14 out of 16 environments, a trait exhibiting a relatively high heritability. In general terms, the leaf photosynthetic traits presented low GxE interaction, but high environmental effects and low heritability, except for the chlorophyll content. The relationships between GY and leaf photosynthetic traits were weaker when performed across genotypes in each environment, indicating low genotypic effects, and stronger when performed across environments for each genotype. The leaf area index and Delta C-13 also presented high environmental effects and low heritability, and their correlations with GY were influenced by environmental effects. The highest-yielding and drought-tolerant genotypes presented superior HI and grain weight, but no clear differences in leaf photosynthetic traits or Delta C-13, compared to drought-susceptible ones. It seems that the phenotypic plasticity of agronomic and leaf photosynthetic traits is very important for crop adaptation to Mediterranean environments.
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