Maize grain weight sensitivity to source-sink manipulations under a wide range of field conditions
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Physiological causes for grain weight determination in maize (Zea mays L.) are not clear. Source–sink relationships during grain filling modulate grain weight, and there are controversies regarding the degree of source limitation that may exist during grain filling. We aimed to analyze likely causes
of the esponsiveness of maize grain weight to defoliation and degraining treatments imposed 15 d after silking, quantifying the responsiveness of grain weight to these source–sink manipulations in a large number of field conditions (52 background conditions in which source–sink manipulations were imposed). Grain weight was largely unresponsive to increases in source availability but was diminished by defoliations in six out of seven experiments. Interestingly, grain weight reductions due to defoliation were not hierarchical (grains from different positions along the ear responded similarly) and were not worsened by imposing a simultaneous heat stress. Heat affected the grain growth capacity directly, and indirect effects (through reducing source strength due to accelerated senescence) were not evident. The penalty imposed by heat was neither increased by defoliation nor diminished by degraining, and the reduction in grain weight was similar for grains with different potential size. Our study reinforced the concept that maize yield is limited by the sink strength during grain filling, even when grain weight may respond to reductions in the grain filling source–sink ratio.