Phenotypic and genetic characterization of Kyrgyz fine-leaved Festuca valesiaca germplasm for use in semi-arid, low-maintenance turf applications

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Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution



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Fine-leaved Festuca valesiaca Schleich. ex Gaudin (2n = 2x–4x) is native to heavily-grazed, cold, semi-arid, Asian rangelands. However, its potential for low-maintenance turf applications in the semi-arid western United States and its relatedness to other agriculturally important Festuca species have not been investigated. Therefore, a project was designed to identify F. valesiaca accessions that possess horticultural potential when grown under semi-arid growing conditions and to characterize their relatedness to other Festuca species. In 2008, 12 F. valesiaca accessions originating from Kyrgyzstan and eight US. Festuca and one Lolium cultivar were transplanted as replicated, spaced plants to a field nursery at Blue Creek, Utah. Relative vigor, height, width, total biomass (aboveground dry matter yield), seed weight, and seed number were evaluated between 2009 and 2011. Plant height, width, and total biomass of the F. valesiaca accessions examined were approximately equal to the commercial control, ‘Cascade’ (F. rubra L. subsp. commutata Gaudin; 6x; chewings fescue). Plant vigor and seed weight of F. valesiaca accessions PI 659923, PI 659932, W6 30575, and W6 30588 under semi-arid conditions (~300 mm annual precipitation) were significantly (P < 0.05) greater than ‘Cascade’. Moreover, principal component analysis based on all traits as loading factors indicated that these 12 F. valesiaca accessions were distinct from a majority of the other Festuca accessions examined. These F. valesiaca accessions produced abundant amounts of small seed, and this seed yield was significantly correlated with total aboveground biomass (dry weight; r 2 = 0.84, P < 0.001), plant height (r 2 = 0.58, P < 0.05), and plant vigor (r 2 = 0.83, P < 0.001). Amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis (1,454 polymorphic bands) was used to characterize F. valesiaca relatedness to other economically important Festuca species. The AFLP-based, neighbor-joining analysis differentiated F. valesiaca accessions from US Festuca cultivars examined, except for ‘Durar’ (F. ovina L.; 6x; sheep fescue), to which they had strong genetic affinities. Given their morphological attributes, F. valesiaca PI 659923, W6 30575, PI 659932, and W6 30588 should be considered for use in low-maintenance, semi-arid turf improvement programs in the western US.