Alfalfa is an autotetraploid, allogamous and heterozygous forage legume, whose varieties are synthetic populations. Due to the complex nature of the species, information about genetic diversity of germplasm used in any alfalfa breeding program is most beneficial. The genetic diversity of five alfalfa varieties, involved in progeny tests at Institute of Field and Vegetable Crops, was characterized based on RAPD markers. A total of 60 primers were screened, out of which 17 were selected for the analysis of genetic diversity. A total of 156 polymorphic bands were generated, with 10.6 bands per primer. Number and percentage of polymorphic loci, effective number of alleles, expected heterozygosity and Shannon's information index were used to estimate genetic variation. Variety Zuzana had the highest values for all tested parameters, exhibiting the highest level of variation, whereas variety RSI 20 exhibited the lowest. Analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) showed that 88.39% of the total genetic variation was attributed to intra-varietal variance. The cluster analysis for individual samples and varieties revealed differences in their population structures: variety Zuzana showed a very high level of genetic variation, Banat and Ghareh were divided in subpopulations, while Pecy and RSI 20 were relatively uniform. Ways of exploiting the investigated germplasm in the breeding programs are suggested in this paper, depending on their population structure and diversity. The RAPD analysis shows potential to be applied in analysis of parental populations in semi-hybrid alfalfa breeding program in both, development of new homogenous germplasm, and identification of promising, complementary germplasm.
Keywords: RAPD; alfalfa; breeding; cluster analysis; genetic diversity.