Climate change is expected to intensify water restriction to crops, impacting on the yield potential of crops such as popcorn. This work aimed to evaluate the performance of 10 field cultivated popcorn inbred lines during two growing seasons, under well-watered (WW) and water stressed (WS) (ψsoil≥ −1.5 MPa) conditions. Water stress was applied by withholding irrigation in the phenological phase of male pre-anthesis. Additionally, two contrasting inbred lines, P7 (superior line) and L75 (low performer) were compared for grain yield (GY) and expanded popcorn volume (EPV), selected from previous studies, were tested under greenhouse conditions. In the field, no genotype x water condition x crop season (G×WC×CS) interaction was observed, whereas GY (−51%), EPV (−55%) and leaf greenness (SPAD index) measured 17 days after anthesis (DAA) (> −10%) were highly affected by water limitation. In general, root traits (angles, number, and density) presented G×WC×CS interaction, which did not support their use as selection parameters. In relation to leaf senescence, for both WS and WW conditions, the superior inbred lines maintained a stay-green condition (higher SPAD index) until physiological maturity, but maximum SPAD index values were observed later in WW (48.7 by 14 DAA) than in WS (43.9 by 7 DAA). Under both water conditions, negative associations were observed between SPAD index values 15 and 8 days before anthesis DBA), and GY and EPV (r ≥ −0.69), as well as between SPAD index 7, 17, and 22 DAA, and angles of brace root (AB), number of crown roots (NC) and crown root density (CD), in WS (r ≥ −0.69), and AB and CD, in WW (r ≥ −0.70). Lower NC and CD values may allow further root deepening in WS conditions. Under WS P7 maintained higher net photosynthesis values, stomatal conductance, and transpiration, than L75. Additionally, L75 exhibited a lower (i.e., more negative) carbon isotope composition value than P7 under WS, confirming a lower stomatal aperture in L75. In summary, besides leaf greenness, traits related to leaf photosynthetic status, and stomatal conductance were shown to be good indicators of the agronomic performance of popcorn under water constraint.
- carbon isotope composition (δC)
- leaf gas exchanges
- popcorn yield
- water use efficiency