Identifying drought tolerant maize (Zea mays L.) at the vegetative stage is a meaningful effort at reducing cost and time of screening large number of maize genotypes for drought tolerance. The primary objectives of this study were to assess the effectiveness of vegetative traits in discriminating between drought tolerant and drought sensitive hybrids and to determine the stage at which the stress should be imposed to achieve maximum difference between hybrids with contrasting responses to drought. A drought tolerant hybrid (TZEI 18 × TZEI 31) and a sensitive hybrid (TZEI 108 × TZEI 87) were evaluated in a pot experiment conducted in a screen house facility and in the field at the Teaching and Research Farm of the Faculty of Agriculture, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in 2011. The experiment was laid out as a randomized complete block design in each of four groups of different water treatments, namely one week of watering for 1, 2, and 3 weeks after planting and withdrawing watering for the rest of the period of experimentation (43 days after planting), along with a treatment involving watering throughout the period of the experiment. Data were collected on root and shoot traits under the four levels of water treatment and the data were subjected to analysis of variance (ANOVA) and orthogonal contrasts. Results of the ANOVA showed significant mean squares for root length, root fresh weight, shoot length, number of root branches, shoot dry weight, root dry weight and number of shed leaves. Withdrawing water a week or two after planting induced large differences between the drought tolerant and drought sensitive genotypes for root length, root dry weight, number of root branches and number of shed leaves. In conclusion, root length, root fresh weight, shoot length, number of root branches, shoot dry weight, root dry weight and number of shed leaves were the most reliable traits for pre-anthesis drought tolerance. Watering for only one or two weeks after planting was the best treatment for identifying drought tolerant maize genotypes at the vegetative growth stage.
Key words: Drought, maize, pre-anthesis, seedling stage.
ALN, Average leaf number; ANOVA, analysis of variance; ASI, anthesis-silking interval; DAP, days after planting; DPW, plant dry weight; DRW, root dry weight; DSW, shoot dry weight; FPW, plant fresh weight; FRW, root fresh weight; FSW, shoot fresh weight; IITA, international institute of tropical agriculture; LFSHED, number of leaf shed; MC, moisture content; PLHT, plant height; RBG, root branches; RL, root length; SL, shoot length; WAP, weeks after planting.
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