The consequences of selection for shorter, stiffer-strawed varieties that are less susceptible to lodging on the degradability of forage and straw obtained from cereal crops were investigated with particular reference to the characteristics of the basal internode where the mechanical stress is likely to be greatest. Quantitative measurements of tissue area, mean cell wall thickness, cell wall density and cellsize were made on two wheat cultivars, Riband (strong) and Norman (weak), and on two barley cultivars, Blenheim (strong) and Tyne (weak). The cultivars were selected for comparison on the basis of their straw strength in field trials.
At growth stage (GS) 59 in wheat (ear emergence complete) the neutral detergent fibre (NDF) content of the basal internode of Riband (74·6%) was lower than Norman (86·0%), and the NDF degradability (NDFD) of Riband (34·7%) was slightly greater than Norman (32·0%). No significant differences in lignin content were found between the wheat cultivars. In barley at the same growth stage, the NDF content of the basal internode of Blenheim (84·8%) was lower than Tyne (89·2%), and the NDFD of Blenheim (30·2%) was greater than Tyne (23·7%) but no significant differences in lignin content were associated with the difference in NDFD. At GS 32–37 (stem elongation) in barley the NDF content of the basal internode of Blenheim (81·5%) was also lower than Tyne (86·3%), but the NDFD of Blenheim (71·7%) was much greater than Tyne (42·8%). No significant differences in lignin content were associated with this large difference in NDFD.
The cultivars of wheat and barley less susceptible to lodging showed lower NDF content and higher in vitro degradability in the basal internode than the more susceptible cultivars. No evidence of differences in the extent of cross-linking by ether-bound ferulic acid was found in wheat, but stems of Blenheim barley showed evidence of a greater degree of cross-linking than in Tyne. The anatomical features of Norman wheat were consistent with stem weakness caused by thinner, smaller cells than the stronger Riband. However, in contrast, the anatomy of Tyne barley indicated that the straw may be too stiff, resulting in failure due to root lodging or brackling while the thinner more cross-linked cell walls of Blenheim may allow the stem to bend under load.
The relationship between the anatomical features, chemical composition and in vitro degradability of the stems was investigated using stepwise multiple regression. Thickness of sclerenchyma, thickness of epidermis and density of epidermis (area fraction of cell wall) were selected by the method of ‘backward elimination’ from an initial regression model to predict NDFD using all the anatomical features measured. Thickness of sclerenchyma was ranked first when the selected anatomical features were incorporated into a regression model with NDF and lignin content using the method of ‘forward selection’. Anatomical differences between varieties had an effect on degradability distinct from that due to the overall chemical composition. The results emphasise the contribution made by anatomical features to the stem degradability and lodging characteristics of cereals.