Field and greenhouse experiments were carried out to study the response of rye (Secale cereale L. cv. Aslim), triticale (x Triticosecale Wittmark. cv. Presto), two bread wheats (Triticum aestivum L, cvs. Bezostaja-1 and Atay-85) and two durum wheats (Triticum durum L. cvs. Kunduru-1149 and C-1252) to zinc (Zn) deficiency and Zn fertilization in severely Zn-deficient calcareus soils (DTPA-Zn=0.09 mg kg(-1) soil). The first visible symptom of Zn deficiency was a reduction in shoot elongation followed by the appearance of whitish-brown necrotic patches on the leaf blades. These symptoms were either absent or only slight in rye and triticale, but occurred more rapidly and severely in wheats, particularly in durum wheats. The same was true for the decrease in shoot dry matter production and grain yield. For example, in field experiments at the milk stage, decreases in shoot dry matter production due to Zn deficiency were absent in rye, and were on average 5% in triticale, 34% in bread wheats and 70%, in durum wheats. Zinc fertilization had no effect on grain yield in rye but enhanced grain yield of the other cereals. Zinc efficiency of cereals, expressed as the ratio of yield (shoot dry matter or grain) produced under Zn deficiency compared to Zn fertilization were, on average, 99% for rye, 74% for triticale, 59% for bread wheats and 25% for durum wheats. These distinct differences among and within the cereal species in susceptibility to Zn deficiency were closely related to the total amount (content) of Zn per shoot, but not with the Zn concentrations in shoot dry matter. For example, the most Zn-efficient rye and the Zn-inefficient durum wheat cultivar C-1252 did not differ in shoot Zn concentration under Zn deficiency, but the total amount of Zn per whole shoot was approximately 6-fold higher in rye than the durum wheat. When Zn was applied, rye and triticale accumulated markedly more Zn both per whole shoot and per unit shoot dry matter in comparison to wheats.
The results demonstrate an exceptionally high Zn efficiency of rye and show that among the cereals studied Zn efficiency declines in the order rye>triticale>bread wheat>durum wheat. The differences in expression of Zn efficiency are possibly related to a greater capacity of efficient genotypes to acquire Zn from the soil compared to inefficient genotypes.