Genotypic variation in spike fertility traits and ovary size as determinants of floret and grain survival rate in wheat

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Spike fertility traits are critical attributes for grain yield in wheat (Triticum aestivum L.). Here, we examine the genotypic variation in three important traits: maximum number of floret primordia, number of fertile florets, and number of grains. We determine their relationship in determining spike fertility in 30 genotypes grown under two contrasting conditions: field and greenhouse. The maximum number of floret primordia per spikelet (MFS), fertile florets per spikelet (FFS), and number of grains per spikelet (GS) not only exhibited large genotypic variation in both growth conditions and across all spikelet positions studied, but also displayed moderate levels of heritability. FFS was closely associated with floret survival and only weakly related to MFS. We also found that the post-anthesis process of grain set/abortion was important in determining genotypic variation in GS; an increase in GS was mainly associated with improved grain survival. Ovary size at anthesis was associated with both floret survival (pre-anthesis) and grain survival (post-anthesis), and was thus believed to ‘connect’ the two traits. In this work, proximal florets (i.e. the first three florets from the base of a spikelet: F1, F2, and F3) produced fertile florets and set grains in most cases. The ovary size of more distal florets (F4 and beyond) seemed to act as a decisive factor for grain setting and effectively reflected pre-anthesis floret development. In both growth conditions, GS positively correlated with ovary size of florets in the distal position (F4), suggesting that assimilates allocated to distal florets may play a critical role in regulating grain set.

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