Genetic effects and associations between grain yield potential, stress tolerance and yield stability in southern African maize (Zea mays L.) base germplasm.
Maize (Zea mays L.) is the principal crop of Southern Africa but production is threatened by gray leaf spot (Cercospora zea-maydis L.) and phaeosphaeria leaf spot (Phaeosphaeria maydis L.) diseases, drought and the use of unadapted cultivars, among other constraints. There are few studies of gray leaf spot (GLS) and Phaeosphaeria leaf spot (PLS) resistance, drought tolerance, yield stability and maize cultivar preferences in Southern Africa. The objective of this study was to: a) determine farmers’ preferences for cultivars; b) investigate the gene action and heritability for resistance to GLS and PLS, and drought tolerance; and c) evaluate yield stability and its relationship with high yield potential in Southern African maize germplasm. The study was conducted in South Africa and Zimbabwe during 2003 to 2004. A participatory rural appraisal (PRA) established that farmers preferred old hybrids of the 1970s because they had better tolerance to drought stress. Farmers also preferred their local landrace because of its flintier grain and better taste than the hybrids. The major prevailing constraints that influenced farmers’ preferences were lack of appropriate cultivars that fit into the ultra short seasons, drought and low soil fertility. Thus they preferred cultivars that combine high yield potential, early maturity, and drought tolerance in all areas. However, those in relatively wet areas preferred cultivars with tolerance to low soil fertility, and weevil resistance, among other traits. A genetic analysis of 72 hybrids from a North Carolina Design II mating revealed significant differences for GLS and PLS resistance, and drought tolerance. General combining ability (GCA) effects accounted for 86% of genetic variation for GLS and 90% for PLS resistance indicating that additive effects were more important than non-additive gene action in controlling these traits. Some crosses between susceptible and resistant inbreds had high resistance to GLS suggesting the importance of dominance gene action in controlling GLS resistance. Resistance to GLS and PLS was highly heritable (62 to 73%) indicating that resistance could be improved by selection. Also large GCA effects for yield (72%), number of ears per plant (77%), and anthesis-silking interval (ASI) (77%) under drought stress indicated that predominantly additive effects controlled hybrid performance under drought conditions. Although heritability for yield declined from 60% under optimum to 19% under drought conditions, heritability for ASI ranged from 32 to 49% under moisture stress. High heritability for ASI suggested that yield could be improved through selection for short ASI, which is positively correlated with high yield potential under drought stress. The stability analyses of the hybrids over 10 environments indicated that 86% had average stability; 8% had below average stability and were adapted to favourable environments; and 6% displayed above average stability and were specifically adapted to drought stress environments. Grain yield potential and yield stability were positively correlated. In sum, the study indicated that farmers’ preferences would be greatly influenced by the major prevailing constraints. It also identified adequate genetic variation for stress tolerance, yield potential and yield stability in Southern African maize base germplasm, without negative associations among them, suggesting that cultivars combining high yield potential, high stress tolerance and yield stability would be obtainable.
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