Assessing the importance of subsoil constraints to yield of wheat and its implications for yield improvement
Many of the soils in the Australian cereal belt have subsoils with chemical and physical properties that restrict root growth, which limits water use and yield. On alkaline sodic soils salinity, high pH, high available boron (B), deficiencies of zinc (Zn) and manganese (Mn) and high soil strength occur commonly and aluminium (Al) toxicity restricts root growth on acid soils. While the effects of individual subsoil constraints have been studied there is some debate about the relative importance to yield of the different soil stresses across the region. To address this issue yield variation among a set of 52 varieties of bread wheat was analysed using yield data from 233 trials conducted over 12 years. The trials were conducted in all mainland States but the majority were in South Australia and Western Australia. Each variety was characterised for its response to high B, high pH, Al toxicity, salinity, deficiencies in Zn and Mn and resistance to root lesion nematode (Pratylenchus neglectus), root growth through strong soil, seminal root angle, carbon isotope discrimination (CID) and maturity. This data was then used to examine the contribution of each trait to the genetic variation in yield at each of the 233 trials. The contribution of a specific trait to the genetic variation in yield at each site was used to infer the importance of a particular constraint to yield at that site. Of the traits linked to soil constraints, salinity tolerance, (measured by Na+ exclusion) was most often associated with genetic variation in grain yield (34% of all experiments), followed by tolerance to high Al (26%) and B tolerance (21%). Tolerance to low Zn and Mn were not consistently associated with yield variation. However, maturity was the trait that was most frequently associated with yield variation (51% of experiments), although the relative importance of early and late flowering varied among the States. Yield variation was largely associated with early flowering in Western Australia and the relative importance of late flowering increased as trials moved eastward into South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. Narrow, rather than wide, seminal root angle was more commonly associated with high yield (25% of sites) and there was little evidence of any regional pattern in the importance of root angle. CID was important in 18% of trials with a low CID being most commonly associated with high yields. The yield advantage at sites where a trait contributed significantly to yield variation ranged from ~15% for Na+ exclusion and B tolerance to 4% for tolerance to high pH. The analysis has provided an assessment of the relative importance of a range of traits associated with adaptation to environments where subsoil constraints are likely to affect yield and has indicated patterns in the importance and effects of these traits that may be linked to regional variation in rainfall and soils.