Physiological N response of field-grown maize hybrids (Zea mays L.) with divergent yield potential and grain protein concentration

Martín Uribelarrea, Steven J. Crafts-Brandner, Fred E. Below

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fertilizer N availability impacts photosynthesis and crop performance, although cause-effect relationships are not well established, especially for field-grown plants. Our objective was to determine the relationship between N supply and photosynthetic capacity estimated by leaf area index (LAI) and single leaf photosynthesis using genetically diverse field-grown maize (Zea mays L.) hybrids. We compared a high yield potential commercial hybrid (FR1064 x LH185) and an experimental hybrid (FR1064 x IHP) with low yield potential but exceptionally high grain protein concentration. Plant biomass and physiological traits were measured at tassel emergence (VT) and at the grain milk stage (R3) to assess the effects of N supply on photosynthetic source capacity and N uptake, and grain yield and grain N were measured at maturity. Grain yield of FR1064 x LH185 was much greater than FR1064 x IHP even though plant biomass and LAI were larger for FR1064 x IHP, and single leaf photosynthesis was similar for both hybrids. Although photosynthetic capacity was not related to hybrid differences in productivity, increasing N supply led to proportional increases in grain yield, plant biomass, LAI, photosynthesis, and Rubisco and PEP carboxylase activities for both hybrids. Thus, a positive relationship between photosynthetic capacity and yield was revealed by hybrid response to N supply, and the relationship was similar for hybrids with a marked difference in yield potential. For both hybrids the N response of single leaf CER and initial Rubisco activity was negative when expressed per unit of leaf N. In contrast, PEP carboxylase activity per unit leaf N increased in response to N availability, indicating that PEP carboxylase served as a reservoir for excess N accumulation in field-grown maize leaves. The correlation between CER and initial Rubisco activity was highly significant when expressed on a leaf area or a total leaf basis. The results suggest that regardless of genotypic yield potential, maize CER, and potentially grain yield, could be improved by increasing the partitioning of N into Rubisco.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-160
Number of pages10
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2009


  • Crop productivity
  • Leaf photosynthesis
  • Maize
  • N allocation
  • N utilization
  • Nitrogen
  • PEP carboxylase
  • Rubisco
  • Zea mays

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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