How do you know if a seed is well suited to a given environment? How can you predict its yield for a particular climate? Farmers need to know the answers to these questions when choosing their seeds because yields depend on complex interactions between seed genotype and environmental conditions. Researchers at INRA and Wageningen University & Research (WUR, Netherlands) have developed a model to predict the yield of any maize hybrid based on its genes and environmental conditions. To create their model, they looked at the yields of 246 hybrids planted in 25 fields in Europe and Chile. The model is a valuable tool that offers a better understanding of the performances of each seed type according to the field where it is grown. It will help benefit the genetic diversity of maize and support efforts to adapt agriculture to climate change. The study was published on 20 May 2019.
Maize has a remarkable genetic diversity that allows it to adapt to highly diverse environmental conditions. By selecting for traits such as transpiration, root length or annual cycle, varieties can be chosen that offer acceptable yields in suboptimal environmental conditions. This broad range of traits will help farmers deal with climate change. To better characterise maize varieties and predict their responses to a range of environmental conditions, researchers from INRA modelled their yields from experimental fields and the PhenoArch phenotyping platform in Montpellier.
Researchers planted 246 maize hybrids at 25 sites located in five European countries and in Chile. Sensors in each field were used to measure the climate conditions. At the end of the season, the researchers assessed the yields and number of grains from each variety. Using this data, they created a statistical model that could predict the yields of the maize varieties based solely on information about their genes and local environmental conditions.
The genetic diversity of maize aids climate change adaptationThis model makes it possible to predict the yields of thousands of maize hybrids with a greater degree of precision than current methods allow, including for new climates and varieties. It could be used as a decision support tool to help farmers better choose seeds based on genes. When combined with functional models developed to predict the effects of climate change by taking into account the specific climate conditions and farmers’ practices  , this research will help agriculture adapt to the challenges it is currently facing. Farmers will be able to guard against yield losses predicted by certain climate scenarios.
Emilie J. Millet, Willem Kruijer, Aude Coupel-Ledru, Santiago Alvarez Prado, Llorenç Cabrera- Bosquet, Sébastien Lacube, Alain Charcosset, Claude Welcker, Fred van Eeuwijk, François Tardieu Genomic prediction of maize yield across European environmental scenarios Nature Genetics , doi.org/10.1038/s41588-019-0414-y
Parent B, Leclere M, Lacube M, Semenov MA, Welcker C, Martre P, Tardieu F (2018). Maize yields over Europmay increase in spite of climate change, with an appropriate use of the genetic variability of flowering time Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A115, 10642-10647