Source or sink limitation of grain filling in cereals is often inferred from experiments in which the source:sink ratio is manipulated by shading, defoliation or grain removal. However, interpretation of this type of experiment is usually qualitative rather than quantitative in nature and the extent of any imbalance between the source and sink is not known. The objectives of the current work were: (1) to provide a detailed analysis of radiation interception, radiation-use efficiency (RUE) and carbohydrate storage reserves in winter barley in order to quantify the potential supply of photosynthates for grain filling; (2) to estimate the variation in source–sink balance between environments. Field experiments were conducted on cv Pearl at six sites in the UK and over 3 years. Crops were grown under a comparable husbandry regime at each site and received a full fertilizer and crop protection programme. When the cumulative interception of post-anthesis photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) was plotted against the increase in biomass to determine RUE, the pattern of response differed between sites and years; for some site/years the response was linear, for others it was non-linear where RUE decreased during the latter stages of grain filling. The extent and statistical significance of non-linearity was determined from the quadratic term of fitted 2nd order polynomials. There was no significant association between climatic variables, such as temperature, radiation or rainfall, and the value of the quadratic term of RUE. Neither could non-linearity of RUE be explained in terms of the shedding of leaf tissue during canopy senescence. There were weak associations (r2 < 0.3) between the extent of non-linearity and green area index (GAI), above-ground biomass, and specific leaf N, at ear emergence (Zadoks GS 59). A much stronger relationship (r2 = 0.63) was found between the source:sink ratio (green area per grain) at GS 59 and non-linearity of RUE. These results suggest that a major factor leading to the reduction in RUE during the second half of grain filling at some sites was feedback inhibition from a limited sink capacity. This conclusion is supported by a fairly strong positive association between RUE non-linearity and the apparent contribution of stem carbohydrate reserves to grain yield (r2 = 0.47). The potential assimilate supply for grain filling was estimated as (maximum post-anthesis RUE × PAR intercepted) + stem soluble carbohydrate reserves at GS 59. The potential supply exceeded the measured yield at all sites except one implying that crops were predominantly sink limited. The size of the excess, which is a measure of the relative source–sink balance during grain filling, differed widely between site/years.
- Radiation interception
- Source-sink balance