In maize, Zea mays L., the timing of vegetative phase transition from juvenile to adult vegetative phases can be modified through selection. A reduction in the juvenile vegetative phase has been associated with resistance to diseases and pests. The major maize pest in temperate areas is Ostrinia nubilalis (Hübner) and in Europe Sesamia nonagrioides Lefebvre. The objective of our study was to determine the effects of divergent selection for the timing of vegetative phase transition in maize on resistance to corn borers. Three cycles of divergent selection for early and late phase transition in a field corn synthetic and in a sweet corn population were evaluated separately under S. nonagrioides and O. nubilalis artificial infestation. For the field corn experiment, yield and moisture improved with selection for phase transition in both directions, but improvement was due to artifacts of selection, rather than to the change in phase transition. There were no correlated responses for corn borer damage, yield, or grain moisture due to selection for the timing of vegetative phase transition. In the sweet corn experiment, selection for the timing of vegetative phase transition had no significant effects on corn borer damage in sweet corn harvested at the fresh stage. Our results do not support the use of phase transition as an indirect criterion for improving resistance to corn borers in maize. The relationship between phase transition and pest resistance reported by other studies could depend on the genotypes or could be too weak to be detected in a selection program with wild-type maize.
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Vol. 98 • No. 3