Drought is the most important constraint reducing rice yield in rainfed areas. Earlier efforts to improve rice yield under drought mainly focused on improving secondary traits because the broad-sense heritability (H) of grain yield under drought stress was assumed to be low, however gains in yield by selecting for secondary traits have not been clearly demonstrated in rice. In present study, the effectiveness of direct selection for grain yield was assessed under lowland reproductive stage stress at Raipur in eastern India and under upland reproductive stage drought stress at IRRI. The selection under severe stress (in both upland and lowland trials) resulted in greater gains under similar stress levels (yield reduction of 65% or greater under stress) in evaluation experiments than did selection under non-stress conditions, with no yield reduction under non-stress conditions. We observed similar H of grain yield under stress and non-stress conditions, indicating direct selection for yield under drought will be effective under both lowland and upland drought stresses. None of the secondary traits (panicle exsertion, harvest index, leaf rolling, leaf drying) included in our study showed a higher estimate for H than grain yield under stress. Secondary traits as well as indirect selection for grain yield under non-stress situation were predicted to be less effective in improving yield under drought in both lowland and upland ecosystem than direct selection for grain yield under the respective stress situations. The low, but positive values observed for genetic correlation (r G ) between yield under stress and non-stress indicated that it is possible to combine drought tolerance with high-yield potential but low values also indicated that selection for grain yield needs to be carried under stress environments. The study also indicated that under lowland drought stress, the use of highly drought-tolerant donors, as parents in crosses to high yielding but susceptible varieties resulted in a much higher frequency of genotypes combining high-yield potential with tolerance than did crosses among elite lines with high-yield potential but poor tolerance. Breeding strategies that use drought-tolerant donors and that combine screening for yield under managed drought stress with screening for yield potential are likely to result in the development of improved cultivars for drought-prone rainfed rice producing areas.
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