Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Maize (Zea mays) Response to Abiotic Stress

Written By

Yousaf Ali, Taufiq Nawaz, Nazeer Ahmed, Muhammad Junaid, Mehwish Kanwal, Fazli Hameed, Saeed Ahmed, Rafi Ullah, Muhammad Shahab and Fazli Subhan

Submitted: 09 January 2022 Reviewed: 26 January 2022 Published: 11 March 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.102892

From the Edited Volume

Maize Genetic Resources - Breeding Strategies and Recent Advances

Edited by Mohamed Ahmed El-Esawi

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The most extensively produced crop globally is Maize (Zea mays). Its response to diverse environmental stressors is dynamics and complicated, and it can be plastic (irreversible) or elastic (reversible). There is a wide range of soil and climatic conditions in which Maize can be grown. Climate change, for example, has the potential to impair grain quality and productivity of Maize all over the world. For the best harvest yield, the maize crop requires the right temperature. As a result of climate change, environmental stress factors such as abiotic and biotic stress factors are projected to intensify and become more common. Abiotic stress such as drought, temperature, and salinity are the major constraints limiting Maize’s worldwide production (Z. mays L.). In places prone to various stresses, the development of stress-tolerant crop types will be useful. Drought, salinity, and temperature extremes are examples of abiotic factors that can significantly impact the development and growth of the plant. Furthermore, various management options available may aid in the development of strategies for better maize performance in abiotic stress conditions to understand the maize response to resistance mechanisms and abiotic stress. Therefore, this chapter will focus on the impact of abiotic stress regarding temperature on Maize.


  • maize
  • drought
  • temperature
  • salinity

1. Introduction

The most important staple cereal crop grown for biofuel and food globally is Maize. After wheat and rice, it is 3rd significant crop grown [1, 2]. Studies have suggested that maize production must double, especially in developing nations, to meet the increasing animal and human consumption demand. The optimum temperature range responsible for higher maize production is 28–32°C, and it requires 500–800 mm of water to complete the life cycle [2].

Environmental conditions play a vital role in crop production. The yield and other characteristics of plants are determined by their genotypes and are highly influenced by environmental conditions. Under natural conditions, plants undergo different phases to complete their life cycle. In recent years, climatic parameters such as precipitation, temperature are being more unpredictable and resulted in prolonged drought, change in temperature beyond the optimal state. Such changes have challenged crop production. In the last two decades, crop productivity has improved. However, the susceptibility of plants to abiotic stress poses a new challenge to sustaining an increase in crop production with changing climatic patterns [3]. Abiotic stress-tolerant crops may be essential to maintain crop productivity in the future [4]. Plant cells activate signaling pathways that include plant hormones, transcription regulators, and signal transducers to respond to various stress. These multiple signals converge to regulate stress-inducible genes, producing proteins and enzymes for stress metabolism [5].

Maize, Wheat, Barley, canola, and other crops attacked by different insect pests which reduced their yield. These attack of insect pest may be due to some compound present in these crop which attract these compound [6, 7, 8]. However, these compounds also act as repellent. Insect pests prefer these crops for their progeny production and development to complete their life cycle [9, 10]. Several methods used to control the insect pest and increase crop yield. However, among these methods pesticides severally used in the world. Due to hazardous effect on the human health and environment alternative methods have been adopted to reduce to use of chemical and control insect pests [11, 12, 13].

As Maize is worldwide grown grown crops so its production is also threatened by moderate to severe droughts, high air temperature, and erratic rainfalls [14]. The major focus of maize research is to improve abiotic stress tolerance characters. However, it’s challenging to identify genetic components responsible for abiotic stress tolerance [3]. Different complex quantitative traits potentially in correlation with other developmental characteristics are responsible for abiotic stress tolerance. These traits are governed by multiple quantitative trait loci (QTL) with small individual effects on the overall trait expression, making it more difficult to identify and modify [1]. This chapter aims to assess the impact of different abiotic stress, especially temperature, in maize production.


2. Zea mays and abiotic stress

The global drop in grain production of annual crops is accelerating as abiotic pressures, such as nutrient limits and drought, rise to the top of the constraint list [15]. Maize looks to be the most vulnerable crop regarding the effects of climate change on agriculture. Drought, severe heat, salt, and nutrient deficiency are all known to be key environmental factors that harm maize productivity worldwide [16]. Maize’s yield and growth are badly affected by waterlogging, low or high temperatures, and intense droughts [17]. Furthermore, due to climate change, ambient temperatures are expected to alter, thereby altering drought frequencies and the intensity in various maize-growing regions globally [18]. Across most Indo-Gangetic plains and Sub-Saharan Africa, the variability of climatic conditions is responsible for nearly half (50%) of the total fluctuations in maize yields in these regions [19].

Abiotic stress in general, and drought in particular, are particularly harmful to maize yields, regardless of the germplasm and stress faced during a developmental stage of the plant [20]. According to some research, when temperatures rise in the world’s major maize-producing regions, maturity times may shorten. In contrast, rising temperatures will alter metabolism, resulting in a loss in carbon uptake and, as a result, a decrease in pollination and grain set [21, 22]. Furthermore, high temperatures can cause plant moisture stress due to the soil’s decreasing moisture content, in addition to broad-scale climatic variables altering rainfall patterns [23, 24]. Researchers discovered that from 1961 to 2002, the global production of Maize decreased by 8.3% with every degree Celsius increase in temperature, with part of the variation explained by variations in temperature, both minimum and maximum, and precipitation. As a result, even if Maize is given all of the necessary water, yields are expected to fall by 10–20% by the end of the twenty-first century due to severe climate change [25]. Simultaneously, the global agricultural sector must produce roughly 70% of food for a population expected to reach 9 billion or more by 2050 [26].


3. Drought stress

Drought is complex and destructive in plant biology to such an extent that it is compared with cancer in mammalian biology [27]. The effect of drought varies with the timing and intensity of stress on a plant’s growth and development [28].

Maize is a drought-sensitive crop, mainly in a critical stage of growth such as the seedling stage and is grown in a wide range of climatic conditions from semi-arid to temperate regions, including drought-prone areas of Africa, North and South America, Asia and Europe [2]. Drought stress during vegetative growth, especially during V1 to V5, reduces plant growth, increases the vegetative growth period and reduces the growth period of the reproductive stage [29]. The relative water content and water potential are reduced under stressed conditions.

Plants undergo morphological and physiological changes under drought stress conditions. This process can be covered under three major categories. They are drought escape, drought avoidance and drought tolerance. The combined impact of these strategies is drought resistance [30]. According to Osmolovskaya et al. [30] drought resistance is the ability of plants to maintain favorable water balance and turgidity under water stress conditions. Drought escape is a strategy in which plant complete their life cycle before the onset of drought. They show seasonal responses [30, 31]. The drought avoidance strategy integrates increased water uptake and decreased water loss by plants. Plants develop strategies such as osmotic adjustment, an extension of antioxidant capacity, and desiccation tolerance to develop drought tolerance.

Further research has been conducted to identify drought-tolerant varieties. Along with advancements in technology, the research focus has changed from morphological characterization to identifying genes responsible for drought tolerance. Photosynthesis, a major metabolic pathway in plants, is sensitive to drought stress and is involved in plant response [32]. The photosynthetic pigments are damaged by drought, which decreases the light absorption efficiency of plants [2]. Though stomata closure is a way forward to ameliorate the adverse effects of drought, a decrease in stomata opening reduces the amount of CO2 entering in leaves, which reduces carbon assimilation reaction and transpiration decreases root absorbance.


4. Salinity stress

Salinity stress is mostly caused by the high concentration of NaCl which induces abiotic stress in plants in irrigated and non-irrigated conditions. According to a global estimation, 20% of cultivated land and 50% of irrigated land is under salinity stress [33]. Salinity stress retards plant growth and productivity, mainly due to ion toxicity and osmotic stress. Thus, induced osmotic stress decreases stomata opening, reducing photosynthetic ability [34].

Besides limitation in photosynthetic ability, salinity stress causes degradation of enzymatic proteins in photosynthetic apparatus and chlorophyll degradation [34]. Furthermore, salinity stress causes secondary stress, in particular oxidative stress, mainly caused by ion toxicity and osmotic stress, which damage plant cells by excessive accumulation of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) [35]. ROS causes significant damage to proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, and photosynthetic pigments. As a result, antioxidant capacity and photosynthetic capacity are two important factors to consider in salinity stress studies [36].

Application of exogenous selenium (1 μM) alleviates inhibitory effects caused by salt stress. In an experiment, Jiang [36] studied different concentrations of Na2SeO3 (0, 1, 5 and 25 μM) on 15 days old maize plants. This study found that the application of 1 μM Se increases net photosynthetic rate, improves antioxidant defense mechanism and reduces chloroplast ultrastructure damage caused by NaCl.


5. Temperature stress

At leaf temperatures greater than 38°C, maize plants demonstrated a drop in net photosynthesis (Pn), and the decrease was particularly severe when the temperature was increased suddenly rather than slowly [37]. The reduction in photosynthesis was not due to stomata closure, as the transpiration rate rise in response to the increase in temperature. An increase in temperature greater than 32.5°C decreased the activation state of rubisco, which guided to complete inactivation at 45°C [38]. With the increase in leaf temperature, the level of 3-hosphoglyceric acid decreased. Rubisco activation acclimatized with increased leaf temperature and the acclimation process was associated with the expression of new activase polypeptide. Crafts-Brander and Salvucci concluded that the primary constraint responsible for the decrease in net photosynthesis at a temperature greater than 30°C was the inactivation of rubisco [38].

Maize is sensitive to chilling injury (below 15°C) and shows less adaptation growing in low temperatures [39]. Miedema found that 36% of the imbibed seeds died when exposed to 4°C for 28 days [40]. Sugar and amino acid exudation at lower temperatures may be linked to cell membrane failure. Young seedlings died after six days at 1°C and 8 days at 2.5°C. After 3 days of cooling, the Golgi bodies and inner mitochondrial membrane were destroyed, the endoplasmic reticulum was decreased, and lipid bodies accumulated.

Maize leaves are most sensitive to chilling injury. Chilling injury induces premature leaf senescence [39]. The combined exposure of Maize leaves to low temperature (10°C) and high light decreases CO2 assimilation and leads to irreversible inhibition of photosynthesis [40].

Janda et al. [41] treated young maize seedlings grown in hydrophobic conditions with 0.5 mM salicylic acid, which protected plants in subsequent application of low-temperature stress. Salicylic acid pretreatment lowered catalase activity, which boosted antioxidant enzyme activity such as peroxidases and glutathione reductase, resulting in higher freezing tolerance in immature maize plants, according to Janda et al. [41]. Another research found a significant reduction in lipid peroxidation in Glycinebetaine (GB) cells compared to control during chilling [42]. This result implies that an increase in chilling tolerance may be caused by reducing lipid peroxidation of the cell membrane in the presence of GB.

Maize appears to have a harder time adjusting to low temperatures. This adaptation necessitates the capacity to germinate, grow, and mature at low temperatures and resistance to frost, chilling, and soil fungi during germination. Breeding for low-temperature adaptability has grown more essential as feed maize in northern areas has increased. Appropriate selection criteria are required for a sensible approach to this breeding task. As a result, we need to know first which plant characteristics limit maize output in a chilly climate, and second, how genetically variable those characteristics are.

5.1 Damage by low nonfreezing temperature

Temperatures below and near the germination and growth minimums in Maize can induce various physiological problems. Chilling damage is the medical term for these low-temperature effects. Chilling is not to blame for all of the negative impacts of cold weather. At temperatures above the chilling range, for example, low-temperature chlorosis occurs.

5.1.1 Chilling injury

The physiological damage induced by temperatures between 0 and 12°C is known as chilling injury [43]. Chilling is a problem for many thermophilic plants. The temperature and length of exposure determine the severity of the injury. Injury is usually not obvious during chilling, but appears once the temperature rises. Chilling injury causes wilting and browning of the leaves; severe chilling causes plants or plant sections to die. The chilling injury could be caused primarily by membrane dysfunction at low temperatures.

5.1.2 Chilling before emergence

Long-term cold temperatures destroy the Imbibed seeds that have been killed. Researcher also looked explored the effects of a 28-day cold treatment on six different types of plants. Varietal survival differences were observed. At 4 and 6°C, the average mortality was 36 and 21%, respectively; there was hardly little harm at 8 and 10°C. Sugars, and amino acids were exuded from maize seeds when incubated at a low temperature. This exudation was substantially higher at 6 than at lWC, and it could be linked to membrane malfunction at the lower temperature. They identified a specific chilling injury after imbibition in very dry seeds incubated at 5°C. During initial hydration, structural defects in the radicle caused the injured [44].

Young plants were injured by a 6-day exposure to 1°C and an 8-day exposure to 2.5°C. Chilling generated ultrastructural alterations in the meristematic cells of primary roots. The Golgi apparatus and inner mitochondria1 membranes were destroyed after 3 days of cooling, Lipid bodies had accumulated, and the endoplasmic reticulum had decreased. After 4 days of cooling, researchers discovered double cells made up of a small cell inside a larger cell. According to the findings, temperatures below roughly 6°C damage or kill immature maize plants. Temperature, length of cold treatment, developmental stage, and genotype all influence the severity of the injury [44].

In the field, there is no data on how cold affects germination. It is doubtful that chilling will have an impact on Maize’s survival and emergence because the crop is sown late in the spring when soil temperatures rarely fall below 6°C for long periods.

5.1.3 Chilling after emergence

Using 7-day-old maize seedlings, Miedema [44] investigated chilling effects at 0.3°C and low light intensity. The seedlings were moved to a temperature of 21°C to explore the physiological and biochemical consequences. Leaf damage began to appear after 36 h of exposure to the cold, and by 72 h, the damage had become irreversible. Leaf extension at 21°C was drastically reduced after 24 and 36 h of chilling. Increasing ion leakage and oxygen uptake in chilled plant leaf segments due to uncoupling oxidative phosphorylation. Plants that were chilled for 72 h did not occur this.

According to the findings of several researchers, seedlings that had been chilled in an air-conditioned greenhouse at 2–4°C for 60 h developed transverse chlorotic bands the leaf blades 5–10 days after the chilling period. As a result of the chilling process, bands of color began to emerge on the blades used to generate the plant’s curled appearance. The researchers discovered similar necrotic cross bands and other leaf damage in maize seedlings that had been exposed to 4°C in the dark for three days [44]. After transfer normal temperatures, the majority of the damage disappeared. After 6 days of exposure to 4°C, irreversible leaf damage occurred.

After 14 days of exposure to a daylight temperature of 10/4°C, chlorotic cross bands were developed, but not at 16/4°C. Chilling sensitivity was higher in the cell extension zone of the leaves than in full-grown or meristematic tissue. The tissue between the veins was chlorotic in some cross bands, whereas tissue along the veins (bundle sheath) was green. Various thermophilic Gramineae have chlorotic cross bands. Its found that transverse permanently chlorotic bands appeared in Sorghum bicolor, Paspalum dilatatum, and Digitaria smut-sii following a single cold night. Chlorophyll-deficient chloroplasts with disorderly lamellae were detected in most mesophyll cells in the chlorotic bands, whereas chloroplasts in bundle sheath cells were green and had a normal structure. The nucleus and mitochondria of chlorotic mesophyll cells showed no structural changes.

Because of the chilling sensitivity of the chloroplasts, leaves appear to be more sensitive to chilling than other organs. Chilling treatments cause visible injury to the roots of maize seedlings. In the case of Maize, there was just a minor amount of genetic heterogeneity in chilling-induced leaf damage [44]. Chlorotic cross bands are frequently seen after a cold spell in the field. They could result from a combination of low temperature and high light intensities, or they could be the effect of chilling during cold nights.

5.1.4 Chilling injury at high light levels

When maize leaves are exposed to a temperature of 10°C and a light intensity of 170 W m-*, they develop necrotic lesions, according to Taylor and Rowley [45]. With increasing exposure time to very low levels on the third day, the photosynthetic rate at 10°C steadily decreased. A permanent photosynthetic capacity reduction was caused by this chilling treatment; Photosynthesis at 25°C was reduced by 40% and 70% after 1.5 and 2.5 days of cooling. The chilling treatment did not affect chlorophyll levels. According to Taylor and Craig [46] in Sorghum, this form of injury was related to edoema and changes in the ultrastructure of chloroplasts. The membranes of the thylakoids first closed together as the starch grains vanished, but with more severe stress, the thylakoids moved apart, and granal stacking vanished. Paspalurn and soybean both had similar effects.

When maize plants were subjected to the light intensity of 13°C and 350 W mP2, a decrease in photosynthetic rate was seen, similar to what Taylor and Rowley [46] discovered. They found that throughout a 10-day exposure period, photosynthesis of maize seedlings cultured at 10°C and 105 Wm−2 fell only 30%. The photosynthetic rate immediately restored to its previous level when the seedlings were reintroduced to 22°C. Temperatures of around 10°C in combination with strong light levels, in general, cause the forms of damage already mentioned. When Taylor and Rowley [46] employed conditions similar to those experienced in the field at the start of the growing season, they discovered that seedling growth was impeded.

5.2 Male sterility induced by low-temperature

Plants grown in a greenhouse with short photoperiods and cool nights (10°C) showed male sterility throughout flowering. The tassel growth stage was used to gauge the degree of sterility achieved during the cold treatment. Low night temperatures have also been linked to male sterility in rice and Sorghum [47], but not in Maize under field circumstances.


6. Conclusion

Low temperatures (below 16°C) cause various physiological harm in maize seedlings. Plants are susceptible to chilling in the range of 0°C (or, more specifically, the freezing temperature of the tissue) to around 6°C. The injury severity depends on exposure duration and temperature. Low temperatures for short periods are not detrimental. With each stage of seedling development, the sensitivity to chilling increases. Membranes dysfunction has been linked to chilling injury. Young seedlings and Imbibed seeds exposed to low temperature are susceptible to some other, physiologically less defined, types of injury. Moreover, most types of cold injury report genetic variation; however, there were few interrelationship indications. This shows that different mechanisms cause the various types of low-temperature damage.



The authors are grateful to Dr. Saeed Ahmed (State University of Londrina, Brazil) for reviewing this chapter in the early stages.


Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


Notes/thanks/other declarations

The authors are thankful to the agriculture department staff for their support and encouragement.


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Written By

Yousaf Ali, Taufiq Nawaz, Nazeer Ahmed, Muhammad Junaid, Mehwish Kanwal, Fazli Hameed, Saeed Ahmed, Rafi Ullah, Muhammad Shahab and Fazli Subhan

Submitted: 09 January 2022 Reviewed: 26 January 2022 Published: 11 March 2022