Pourazari, F., Vico, G., Ehsanzadeh, P. and Weih, M. 2015. Contrasting growth pattern and nitrogen economy in ancient and modern wheat varieties. Can. J. Plant Sci. 95: 851-860. Nutrient availability, especially nitrogen (N) availability, is a limiting factor for crop production in many regions of the world. Modern crop varieties often produce high yields under high resource availability, whereas ancient varieties are expected to have characteristics more suitable under low resource availability. To test this expectation, we compared the growth and N use efficiency (NUE) of some varieties of ancient hulled wheat, Triticum turgidum spp. dicoccum, and modern free-threshing wheat, T. aestivum and T. turgidum spp. durum. The wheats were grown under different nutrient fertilization (F) levels in two contrasting environments (field in Iran and outdoor growth container in Sweden). Grain yield was significantly higher in modern varieties than in ancient varieties, regardless of fertilization level. In contrast, N uptake efficiency (i.e., mean N in the plant during the main growth period over N in the initial seed grain) and grain N concentration were generally higher in the ancient varieties. Nitrogen use efficiency, defined as the ratio of the grain N content to the sown seed N content, was higher in the ancient varieties only at lower nutrient supply, because in modern varieties higher nutrient supply resulted in a marked increase in NUE through greatly enhanced grain-specific N efficiency (grain yield per mean plant N content during the main growth period). The modern varieties also showed greater fertilization responses in above-ground biomass and leaf area than ancient varieties. The results are relevant in the context of wheat breeding for nutrient use efficiency.
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