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Tall fescue forage mass in a grass-legume mixture: predicted efficiency of indirect selection

Waldron, Blair L., Peel, Michael D., Larson, Steven R., Mott, Ivan W., Creech, J. Earl
Euphytica 2017 v.213 no.3 pp. 67
Festuca arundinacea subsp. arundinacea, alfalfa, environmental stewardship, fertilizers, forage, genetic correlation, grasses, heritability, pastures, plant breeding, prices
High fertilizer prices and improved environmental stewardship have increased interest in grass-legume mixed pastures. It has been hypothesized, but not validated, that the ecological combining ability between grasses and legumes can be improved by breeding specifically for mixture performance. This experiment examined the predicted efficiency of selection in a grass monoculture environment to indirectly improve tall fescue (Lolium arundinaceum (Schreb.) Darbysh.) forage mass in a grass-legume mixture. Heritability, genetic and rank correlations, and selection efficiencies were estimated for forage mass in a tall fescue half-sib population grown as spaced-plants overseeded with either turf-type tall fescue (monoculture) or alfalfa (mixture). Heritability for tall fescue forage mass in monoculture ranged from 0.32 to 0.70 and were always similar or greater than those in mixture (range 0.27–0.55) for four successive harvests and annual total. Genetic correlations between monoculture and mixture tall fescue forage mass varied with values of 0.48, 0.92, −0.31, 0.70, and 0.25 in June, July, August, October, and annual total, respectively. Indirect selection efficiencies exceeded or approached direct selection for mixtures only in July and October (1.29, and 0.73, respectively). Whereas, indirect selection efficiencies were low in June, August, and annual forage mass (0.58, −0.31, and 0.28, respectively). Moreover, low Spearman’s rank correlations (−0.03 to 0.35) indicated differing half-sib family performance between the monoculture and mixture environments. Results indicate that direct selection should be used to improve tall fescue forage mass in a grass-legume mixture, and support the hypothesis of increasing ecological combining ability by breeding for mixtures per se.