One of the main challenges of using low plant densities in restrictive and variable environments is to maximize the use of resources in better-than-expected years. In this context, tillering could be an alternative to increase reproductive and vegetative plasticity. The objectives of this study were to (a) characterize the correlation between environmental conditions, tiller traits, crop grain yield, and grain yield advantages due to tillers; (b) determine the grain yield response to tillering (i.e., grain yield difference between tillered and nontillered crops) for a wide range of environments; and (c) to evaluate the effect of tiller presence on grain yield of the main shoot, considering its effect on the apical and subapical ears. Tillered and nontillered crops were evaluated under rainfed conditions during two seasons (2018–2019 and 2019–2020). These experiments were carried out at 11 sites in the southern Argentinean Pampas, varying sowing date (22 Oct. to 5 Dec.), plant density (2–3 plants m−2), genotype (AX7784 and AX7761), and soil depth. Grain yield (3.2–11.9 Mg ha−1) was correlated with tillers productivity, mainly explained by postflowering precipitations. The contribution of tillers to grain yield was more proportional than their consequent yield depression at the main shoot. Tillers either increased (3 sites) or maintained (8 sites) grain yield, and their contribution increased as the environment improved without any detrimental effect in the most restrictive environments. Tillering has the potential for increasing resource (radiation, water, nitrogen) use efficiency under low plant density strategies adopted for restrictive environments.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA), the Research Council of Argentina (CONICET), and the National University of Mar del Plata. Thanks to Emiliano Veliz and Diego Gaitán for their work assistant in the field. This work is part of a thesis by Ignacio Massigoge in partial fulfillment for the requirements for the M. Sc. Degree (Facultad de Ciencias Agrarias, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Argentina).
© 2022 The Authors. Crop Science © 2022 Crop Science Society of America.