The literature includes a number of reports, relating to both crop and non-crop species, showing conflicting responses of developmental plasticity to nitrogen availability. We reviewed 1130 papers published from 1990 to 2010 drawn from 14 agriculture-themed journals and conducted a critical appraisal of the effects of fertiliser nitrogen on time to heading or anthesis in barley and wheat, species for which there is a good deal of data. Features of the analysis were the use of relative responses (respect to unfertilised controls) of yield and time to flowering to nitrogen as a proxy for crop nitrogen status and developmental differences, respectively, and the standardisation of the start point for calculating time (in both calendar and thermal units) to flowering in autumn-sown winter cultivars to March 1 (N Hemisphere). The resulting database (180 cases) covered a broad range of unfertilised crop yields (1-8Mgha-1), and times to flowering (47-168 days). In very few cases (19 out of 118), the relative time to flowering in fertilised crops differed by more than 5% from those of unfertilised crops across a range of yield responses to fertiliser nitrogen from negligible to three-fold. Currently available evidence does not provide solid support to a plastic response of time to flowering to nitrogen in these two species. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.
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