First author: Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, and second author: Department of Plant Pathology and Plant Microbe Biology and Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.
The agronomic importance of developing durably resistant cultivars has led to substantial research in the field of quantitative disease resistance (QDR) and, in particular, mapping quantitative trait loci (QTL) for disease resistance. The assessment of QDR is typically conducted by visual estimation of disease severity, which raises concern over the accuracy and precision of visual estimates. Although previous studies have examined the factors affecting the accuracy and precision of visual disease assessment in relation to the true value of disease severity, the impact of this variability on the identification of disease resistance QTL has not been assessed. In this study, the effects of rater variability and rating scales on mapping QTL for northern leaf blight resistance in maize were evaluated in a recombinant inbred line population grown under field conditions. The population of 191 lines was evaluated by 22 different raters using a direct percentage estimate, a 0-to-9 ordinal rating scale, or both. It was found that more experienced raters had higher precision and that using a direct percentage estimation of diseased leaf area produced higher precision than using an ordinal scale. QTL mapping was then conducted using the disease estimates from each rater using stepwise general linear model selection (GLM) and inclusive composite interval mapping (ICIM). For GLM, the same QTL were largely found across raters, though some QTL were only identified by a subset of raters. The magnitudes of estimated allele effects at identified QTL varied drastically, sometimes by as much as threefold. ICIM produced highly consistent results across raters and for the different rating scales in identifying the location of QTL. We conclude that, despite variability between raters, the identification of QTL was largely consistent among raters, particularly when using ICIM. However, care should be taken in estimating QTL allele effects, because this was highly variable and rater dependent.