Accelerating the domestication of a bioenergy crop: identifying and modelling morphological targets for sustainable yield increase in Miscanthus

Paul Robson, Elaine Jensen, Sarah Hawkins, Simon R White, Kim Kenobi, John Clifton-Brown, Iain Donnison & Kerrie Farrar

To accelerate domestication of Miscanthus, an important energy crop, 244 replicated genotypes, including two different species and their hybrids, were analysed for morphological traits and biomass yield over three growing seasons following an establishment phase of 2 years in the largest Miscanthus diversity trial described to date. Stem and leaf traits were selected that contributed both directly and indirectly to total harvested biomass yield, and there was variation in all traits measured. Morphological diversity within the population was correlated with dry matter yield (DMY) both as individual traits and in combination, in order to determine the respective contributions of the traits to biomass accumulation and to identify breeding targets for yield improvement. Predictive morphometric analysis was possible at year 3 within Miscanthus sinensis genotypes but not between M. sinensis, Miscanthus sacchariflorus, and interspecific hybrids. Yield is a complex trait, and no single simple trait explained more than 33% of DMY, which varied from 1 to 5297 g among genotypes within this trial. Associating simple traits increased the power of the morphological data to predict yield to 60%. Trait variety, in combination, enabled multiple ideotypes, thereby increasing the potential diversity of the crop for multiple growth locations and end uses. Both triploids and interspecific hybrids produced the highest mature yields, indicating that there is significant heterosis to be exploited within Miscanthus that might be overlooked in early selection screens within years 1-3. The potential for optimizing biomass yield by selecting on the basis of morphology is discussed.

Journal of experimental botany 64 (14), 4143-4155

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