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Divergent Selection for Secondary Traits in Upland Tetraploid Switchgrass and Effects on Sward Biomass Yield

David L. Price, Michael D. Casler
BioEnergy research 2014 v.7 no.1 pp. 329-337
Panicum virgatum, germplasm, flowering, parents, genetic improvement, tetraploidy, growing season, biomass production, sward, plant morphology, selection criteria, artificial selection, Wisconsin
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is currently undergoing intensive breeding efforts to improve biomass yield. Consideration must be made regarding the relative importance of spaced plantings to sward plots for evaluation and selection for increased biomass yield. It has previously been suggested that selection schemes using secondary plant morphological traits as selection criteria within spaced plantings may be an efficient method of making genetic gain. The objective of this study was to empirically test the effects of direct selection for plant height, tiller count, flowering date, and visual selection for biomass yield within spaced plantings on biomass yield and morphology traits within sward plots. Divergently selected populations for each trait were developed from the WS4U upland tetraploid germplasm and evaluated for biomass yield at five locations in Wisconsin during two growing seasons. Significant variation was observed between maternal parents of the selected populations for both selected and nonselected traits. Despite substantial differences between parent plant populations for plant morphology, significant differences were not observed for sward-plot biomass yield or sward-plot morphology relative to the base population. Late flowering selections yielded 2.0 Mg/ha greater biomass than early flowering selections (29 % increase). Plant height within sward plots was observed to have a strong positive correlation with biomass yield. Tiller count was observed to have a weak correlation with biomass yield. Based on the observed results, it is recommended that greater emphasis be placed on evaluation of biomass yield using sward plots.