Delayed development of basal spikelets in wheat explains their increased floret abortion and rudimentary nature.

gold Gold open access

Large differences exist in the number of grains per spikelet across an individual wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) spike. The central spikelets produce the highest number of grains while apical and basal spikelets are less productive, and the most basal spikelets are commonly only formed rudimentary. Basal spikelets are delayed in initiation, yet they continue to develop and produce florets. The precise timings or the cause of their abortion remains largely unknown. Here, we investigated the underlying causes of basal spikelet abortion using shading applications in the field. We found that basal spikelet abortion is likely the consequence of complete floret abortion, as both occur concurrently and have the same response to shading treatments. We detected no differences in assimilate availability across the spike. Instead, we show that the reduced developmental age of basal florets pre-anthesis is strongly associated with their increased abortion. Using the developmental age pre-abortion, we were able to predict final grain set per spikelet across the spike, alongside the characteristic gradient in number of grains from basal to central spikelets. Future efforts to improve spikelet homogeneity across the spike could thus focus on improving basal spikelet establishment and increasing floret development rates pre-abortion.