Five species, many genotypes, broad phenotypic diversity: When agronomy meets functional ecology

Am J Bot. 2017 Jan;104(1):62-71. doi: 10.3732/ajb.1600354. Epub 2017 Jan 12.


Premise of the study: Current ecological theory can provide insight into the causes and impacts of plant domestication. However, just how domestication has impacted intraspecific genetic variability (ITV) is unknown. We used 50 ecotypes and 35 cultivars from five grassland species to explore how selection drives functional trait coordination and genetic differentiation.

Methods: We quantified the extent of genetic diversity among different sets of functional traits and determined how much genetic diversity has been generated within populations of natural ecotypes and selected cultivars.

Key results: In general, the cultivars were larger (e.g., greater height, faster growth rates) and had larger and thinner leaves (greater SLA). We found large (average 63%) and trait-dependent (ranging from 14% for LNC to 95.8% for growth rate) genetic variability. The relative extent of genetic variability was greater for whole-plant than for organ-level traits. This pattern was consistent within ecotypes and within cultivars. However, ecotypes presented greater ITV variability.

Conclusions: The results indicated that genetic diversity is large in domesticated species with contrasting levels of heritability among functional traits and that selection for high yield has led to indirect selection of some associated leaf traits. These findings open the way to define which target traits should be the focus in selection programs, especially in the context of community-level selection.

Keywords: interspecific variability; intraspecific variability; leaf trait; phenotype; plant functional trait.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Agriculture / statistics & numerical data
  • Algorithms
  • Biomass
  • Dactylis / classification
  • Dactylis / genetics
  • Dactylis / growth & development
  • Ecology / methods*
  • Ecology / statistics & numerical data
  • Festuca / classification
  • Festuca / genetics
  • Festuca / growth & development
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genotype
  • Grassland*
  • Lolium / classification
  • Lolium / genetics
  • Lolium / growth & development
  • Medicago sativa / classification
  • Medicago sativa / genetics
  • Medicago sativa / growth & development
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Phenotype
  • Plant Leaves / genetics
  • Plant Leaves / growth & development
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Species Specificity
  • Trifolium / classification
  • Trifolium / genetics
  • Trifolium / growth & development