Wheat genotypes that efficiently capture and convert available soil nitrogen into harvested grain protein are key to sustainably meeting the rising global demand for grain protein. The purposes of this study were: to characterize the genetic variation for nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) traits within hard winter wheat adapted to the Great Plains of the United States and evaluate trends in the germplasm with year of release; to explore relationships among traits that may be used for selection within breeding programs; and to identify quantitative trait loci associated with NUE traits in this germplasm. NUE traits were measured in a panel of 299 hard winter wheat genotypes, representing historically important and contemporary germplasm, from across the growing region. Trials were grown in two years at two levels of nitrogen fertility. Genotype and genotype × year interaction effects were highly significant for NUE traits, while genotype × nitrogen rate interactions were non-significant. Strong genetic correlations of plant height and flowering date with NUE traits were observed. Wheat breeders have improved NUE: the subset of 183 genotypes that were released as cultivars after 1960 demonstrated significant trends with year of release for improved grain N yield, grain yield, nitrogen harvest index, nitrogen uptake efficiency, nitrogen utilization efficiency, and post-anthesis nitrogen uptake. In genome-wide association analyses, plant height and flowering date were important covariates in the mixed models, and plant height and flowering date substantially explained the variation in NUE traits in this germplasm. Marker-trait associations were identified that may prove useful in breeding.
- Grain protein deviation
- Nitrogen harvest index