Temporal changes in genetic diversity and forage yield of perennial ryegrass in monoculture and in combination with red clover in swards

PLoS One. 2018 Nov 8;13(11):e0206571. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0206571. eCollection 2018.


Agricultural grasslands are often cultivated as mixtures of grasses and legumes, and an extensive body of literature is available regarding interspecific interactions, and how these relate to yield and agronomic performance. However, knowledge of the impact of intraspecific diversity on grassland functioning is scarce. We investigated these effects during a 4-year field trial established with perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) and red clover (Trifolium pratense). We simulated different levels of intraspecific functional diversity by sowing single cultivars or by combining cultivars with contrasting growth habits, in monospecific or bispecific settings (i.e. perennial ryegrass whether or not in combination with red clover). Replicate field plots were established for seven seed compositions. We determined yield parameters and monitored differences in genetic diversity in the ryegrass component among seed compositions, and temporal changes in the genetic composition and genetic diversity at the within plot level. The composition of cultivars of both species affected the yield and species abundance. In general, the presence of clover had a positive effect on the yield. The cultivar composition of the ryegrass component had a significant effect on the yield, both in monoculture, and in combination with clover. For the genetic analyses, we validated empirically that genotyping-by-sequencing of pooled samples (pool-GBS) is a suitable method for accurate measurement of population allele frequencies, and obtained a dataset of 22,324 SNPs with complete data. We present a method to investigate the temporal dynamics of cultivars in seed mixtures grown under field conditions, and show how cultivar abundances vary during subsequent years. We screened the SNP panel for outlier loci, putatively under selection during the cultivation period, but none were detected.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Plant / genetics
  • Ecosystem
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genes, Plant
  • Genetic Variation
  • Lolium / genetics*
  • Lolium / growth & development*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Seeds / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Species Specificity
  • Time Factors
  • Trifolium / genetics*
  • Trifolium / growth & development*


  • DNA, Plant

Grant support

The authors thank the Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO), and the European Community (FP7-Multisward 244983) for funding.