Genetic gain, advanced cycle pedigree breeding and correlated response to selection under varying moisture conditions in sunflower.
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) is one of the most important oil crops in South Africa and genetic improvement for grain yield and oil-content was initiated in the country in the early 1970s. Commercial production of sunflower in South Africa is done under natural rainfall conditions in areas where frequencies of drought are high hence the requirement for drought tolerant cultivars. An assessment of the genetic gains in seed and oil yield achieved since 1970, the effects of re-cycling inbred lines and strategies for developing drought tolerant sunflower cultivars has not been done for South African sunflower breeding programmes. Two data-sets were used for the genetic gain studies: side-by-side evaluation of historical and current sets of popular cultivars in the same environment under one set of trial management practices; and yield trends in commercial farmers’ fields based on annual production estimates. The estimated relative genetic gain for seed yield based on side-by-side trials was 1.5% year−1 and the relative gain in seed yield per year under commercial production was 1.9% year−1. The contribution of new cultivars to total seed yield progress in sunflower were 56.3% for the period 1970 to 1989; 23.9% from 1990 to 2009 and the mean over the four decades under consideration from 1970 to 2009 was 41.6%. Quantifying the usefulness of inbred lines in advanced cycle plant breeding was done using four base breeding populations based on: phenotypic or genetic variability; heterosis; and combining ability. Significant genetic variation was evident for seed yield and oil yield while genetic variability for oil content was low. Genetic advance (GA%), with a 10% selection intensity, was high for seed yield and oil yield for each of the four populations ranging from 36-42% and 38-43%, respectively. The GA% for oil content was low ranging from 1.3% to 5.1% indicating the need to introgress high oil content germplasm in the present breeding populations in advanced cycle pedigree breeding. Founder parent heterosis (FPH), mid-standard heterosis (MSH) and high standard heterosis (HSH) indicated that some new testcross hybrids from the advanced cycle pedigree breeding populations were performing better than their founder parents in hybrid combination as well as the standard commercial hybrid checks. From variance component analysis, general combining ability (GCA) was predominant over specific combining ability (SCA) for seed and oil yields indicating that superior hybrids can be identified based on positive and significant GCA effects of the female lines. For oil content, SCA was predominant over GCA indicating that it would be best to select for specific hybrids combinations with high oil content rather than selecting female lines with high GCA effects. Variable moisture conditions characterise the sunflower production environments in South Africa. Breeding for such environmental conditions requires a combination of strategies including use of secondary traits and developing appropriate test environments. Three secondary traits, head diameter, stem diameter and stay green canopy which are easy to measure in the field were evaluated for their appropriateness for selecting for drought tolerance under three moisture conditions: random stress environments (RSE), managed drought stress environments (MSE) and well watered nonstress environments (NSE). Type A genetic correlations indicated that stay green canopy (SG) had the potential to be used as secondary trait to indirectly improve oil yield under the three moisture conditions. The indirect selection efficiency (ISE) for SG using genetic correlations based on H2 were 0.79, 0.82 and 0.78 in the RSE, MSE and NSE, respectively, while that using genetic correlation based on h2 were 0.67, 0.98, and 0.93 in the RSE, MSE and NSE, respectively. In both cases selection in the MSE had the highest efficiency using genetic correlations based on either H2 or h2. Estimates of indirect selection based on type B genetic correlations indicated that indirect selection for oil yield (OY) in the MSE and NSE for the target RSE was as effective as direct selection of OY in the RSE based on additive genetic correlations of 0.96 obtained in both selection environments. Overall, the results from the exploratory drought tolerance study should inform the development of breeding strategies to improve drought tolerance and associated yield stability of sunflower cultivars grown in South Africa and associated environments.
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