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It has been hypothesized that the genetic control of forage traits, especially biomass, for grass plants growing as spaced-plants versus swards is different. Likewise, the genetic control of compatibility in grass–legume polyculture mixtures is assumed to be different than for forage production in a grass monoculture. However, these hypotheses are largely unvalidated, especially at the DNA level. This study used an intermediate wheatgrass mapping population to examine the effect of three competition environments (spaced-plants, polyculture, and monoculture) on classical quantitative genetic parameters and quantitative trait loci (QTL) identification for biomass, morphology, and forage nutritive value. Moderate to high heritable variation was observed for biomass, morphological traits, and nutritive value within all three environments (H ranged from 0.50 to 0.87). Genetic correlations (rG) among environments for morphology and nutritive value were predominantly high, however, were moderately-low (0.30 to 0.48) for biomass. Six biomass QTL were identified, including three on linkage groups (LG) 1, 6, and 15 that were only expressed in the monoculture environment. Moreover, three biomass QTL on LG 10, 14, and 15 exhibited significant QTL by environment interactions. This study verified that the genetic control of grass biomass in a monoculture versus a grass–legume mixture is only partially the same, with additional genes expressed in monoculture, and that biomass in widely spaced-plants versus swards is predominantly under different genetic control. These results indicate that selection for improved grass biomass will be most successful when conducted within the targeted monoculture or polyculture sward environment per se.
Mortenson, J.S.; Waldron, B.L.; Larson, S.R.; Jensen, K.B.; DeHaan, L.R.; Peel, M.D.; Johnson, P.G.; Creech, J.E. Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) for Forage Traits in Intermediate Wheatgrass When Grown as Spaced-Plants versus Monoculture and Polyculture Swards. Agronomy 2019, 9, 580.