, Volume 123, Issue 2, pp 155-159

Root traits of maize seedlings—indicators of nitrogen efficiency?

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Due to the high price of fertilizer the input of N for grain maize production must be kept low in many parts of the world. Low input cultivars have been suggested to meet this requirement. Screening of a group of tropical cultivars revealed two high input, two low input and two intermediate cultivars with regard to N utilization. One of the causes of an interaction between genotype and N fertilization might be differences in root morphology. Screening for such differences at an early seedling stage would facilitate the selection for low input varieties. This hypothesis was tested by growing seedlings of the six varieties at different levels of N until the fourth leaf stage. There was no significant interaction between genotypes and N supply. At low and medium N supply, the total seedling biomass was the same but at low N a higher proportion of dry weight was found in the roots. Total biomass was reduced at high N. Low input and intermediate cultivars had higher shoot and root dry weights than did high input cultivars but no significant differences in root surface area were found. Root surface area was greatest at low N. Number and total length of seminal roots were significantly lower for high input varieties which, in combination with a relatively high root surface area, points to an intensive root type.