Branching is a main morphogenetic process involved in the adaptation of plants to the environment. In grasses, tillering is divided into three phases: tiller emergence, cessation of tillering and tiller regression. Understanding and prediction of the tillering process is a major challenge to better control cereal yields. Lecarpentier et al. present and evaluate WALTer, an individual-based model of wheat built on simple self-adaptive rules for predicting the tillering dynamics at contrasting sowing densities.
WALTer simulates the three-dimensional (3-D) development of the aerial architecture of winter wheat. Tillering was modelled using two main hypotheses: (H1) a plant ceases to initiate new tillers when a critical Green Area Index (GAIc) is reached, and (H2) the regression of a tiller occurs if its interception of light is below a threshold (PARt). The development of vegetative organs follows descriptive rules adapted from the literature. A sensitivity analysis was performed to evaluate the impact of each parameter on tillering and GAI dynamics. WALTer was parameterized and evaluated using an initial dataset providing an extensive description of GAI dynamics, and another dataset describing tillering dynamics under a wide range of sowing densities.
Using simple rules and a small number of parameters, WALTer efficiently simulated the wheat tillering dynamics observed at contrasting densities in experimental data. These results show that the definition of a critical GAI and a threshold of PAR is a relevant way to represent, respectively, cessation of tillering and tiller regression under competition for light.