Climate change is expected to decrease water availability in many agricultural production areas around the globe. Therefore, plants with improved ability to grow under water deficit are urgently needed. We combined genetic, phenomic, and physiological approaches to understand the relationship between growth, stomatal conductance, water use efficiency, and carbon isotope composition in maize (Zea mays L.). Using near-isogenic lines derived from a maize introgression library, we analysed the effects of a genomic region previously identified as affecting carbon isotope composition. We show stability of trait expression over several years of field trials and demonstrate in the phenotyping platform Phenodyn that the same genomic region also influences the sensitivity of leaf growth to evaporative demand and soil water potential. Our results suggest that the studied genomic region affecting carbon isotope discrimination also harbours quantitative trait loci playing a role in maize drought sensitivity possibly via stomatal behaviour and development. We propose that the observed phenotypes collectively originate from altered stomatal conductance, presumably via abscisic acid.
a Genomic composition of two near-isogenic lines, NIL A and NIL B, based on 616,201 SNP markers and b overlapping introgression segments on maize chromosome 7 between the two lines. Homozygous alleles of the donor parent (DP) are presented in green, homozygous alleles of the recurrent parent (RP) in blue (colour figure online).