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Variability in the critical phase of stem elongation of perennial ryegrass genotypes: a source for breeding progress?

  • I. ULLMANN (a1) (a2), A. HERRMANN (a1), M. HASLER (a3), D. CAI (a2) and F. TAUBE (a1)...

Phenological development and its variation during reproductive growth have important effects on the yield and quality of forage grasses. In perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) genetic variation in heading date is well recognized, but there are no reliable studies about the variability in the length of the stem elongation phase. To determine the variation in phenological traits of single plants of perennial ryegrass genotypes, a field trial was conducted over three growing seasons (2011–2013) using plant material from eight different ecotype populations, sampled from old permanent grassland swards in Northern Germany. In addition to the phenological stages of jointing, heading and flowering, the critical phase of stem elongation was considered as a new phenological trait. It was hypothesized that the length of the critical phase between jointing and heading differs significantly among genotypes and thus offers a new tool for selecting for specific purposes, e.g. adaption to changing climatic conditions, cutting or grazing as well as yield and quality. The study revealed significant genotypic variation in the observed traits, which was highest for the critical phase (GCV = 0·21). Moderate heritability in jointing (h 2 = 0·72) revealed a large environmental impact. In contrast, high heritability (h 2 > 0·86) in heading, flowering and the critical phase imply a strong genetic effect. Moderate to high genotypic and phenotypic coefficients of correlation revealed a substantial linkage among the phenological traits. Results are discussed in the context of providing different approaches and strategies in forage crop production, especially with regard to regional weather conditions and future climate change. Significant differences among the tested ecotype populations indicate that existing diversity in permanent grassland can provide source material for further progress in grass breeding.

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