Genetics of phenotypic plasticity and biomass traits in hybrid willows across contrasting environments and years.

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Abstract

Background and Aims

Phenotypic plasticity can affect the geographical distribution of taxa and greatly impact the productivity of crops across contrasting and variable environments. The main objectives of this study were to identify genotype-phenotype associations in key biomass and phenology traits and the strength of phenotypic plasticity of these traits in a short-rotation coppice willow population across multiple years and contrasting environments to facilitate marker-assisted selection for these traits.

Methods

A hybrid Salix viminalis  × ( S. viminalis × Salix schwerinii ) population with 463 individuals was clonally propagated and planted in three common garden experiments comprising one climatic contrast between Sweden and Italy and one water availability contrast in Italy. Several key phenotypic traits were measured and phenotypic plasticity was estimated as the trait value difference between experiments. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping analyses were conducted using a dense linkage map and phenotypic effects of S. schwerinii haplotypes derived from detected QTL were assessed.

Key Results

Across the climatic contrast, clone predictor correlations for biomass traits were low and few common biomass QTL were detected. This indicates that the genetic regulation of biomass traits was sensitive to environmental variation. Biomass QTL were, however, frequently shared across years and across the water availability contrast. Phenology QTL were generally shared between all experiments. Substantial phenotypic plasticity was found among the hybrid offspring, that to a large extent had a genetic origin. Individuals carrying influential S. schwerinii haplotypes generally performed well in Sweden but less well in Italy in terms of biomass production.

Conclusions

The results indicate that specific genetic elements of S. schwerinii are more suited to Swedish conditions than to those of Italy. Therefore, selection should preferably be conducted separately for such environments in order to maximize biomass production in admixed S. viminalis × S. schwerinii populations.

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