Cross-sectional geometry predicts failure location in maize stalks


Abstract Background Stalk lodging (breaking of agricultural plant stalks prior to harvest) is a multi-billion dollar a year problem. Stalk lodging occurs when high winds induce bending moments in the stalk which exceed the bending strength of the plant. Previous biomechanical models of plant stalks have investigated the effect of cross-sectional morphology on stalk lodging resistance (e.g., diameter and rind thickness). However, it is unclear if the location of stalk failure along the length of stem is determined by morphological or compositional factors. It is also unclear if the crops are structurally optimized, i.e., if the plants allocate structural biomass to create uniform and minimal bending stresses in the plant tissues. The purpose of this paper is twofold: (1) to investigate the relationship between bending stress and failure location of maize stalks, and (2) to investigate the potential of phenotyping for internode-level bending stresses to assess lodging resistance. Results 868 maize specimens representing 16 maize hybrids were successfully tested in bending to failure. Internode morphology was measured, and bending stresses were calculated. It was found that bending stress is highly and positively associated with failure location. A user-friendly computational tool is presented to help plant breeders in phenotyping for internode-level bending stress. Phenotyping for internode-level bending stresses could potentially be used to breed for more biomechanically optimal stalks that are resistant to stalk lodging. Conclusions Internode-level bending stress plays a potentially critical role in the structural integrity of plant stems. Equations and tools provided herein enable researchers to account for this phenotype, which has the potential to increase the bending strength of plants without increasing overall structural biomass.

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