Genetic and economic value of a shuttle breeding programme for enhancing adaptability of tropical maize germplasm in South Africa.
Maize is the principal crop for food security and livestock feed in South Africa. It is also an industrial crop and the produce is exported to many countries in the world. Therefore there is high seed demand which prompts competition for breeding productive hybrids. However direct introduction of tropical hybrids into the warm temperate South African environments has not been successful. Competitive advantages can be obtained by implementing a “shuttle breeding” programme whereby part of the breeding is done in Zimbabwe and South Africa to minimise research and production costs. Introgression of temperate germplasm in tropical elite inbred lines can also be pursued to obtain adapted hybrids. The aim of this study was therefore to assess the effectiveness of introgression of temperate germplasm into tropical elite maize inbred lines as a strategy to enhance adaptability of new hybrids to South Africa, and also to determine both breeding and economic value of a “shuttle breeding” programme. To this end, the introgressed inbred lines and their hybrid progenies were evaluated in South Africa to determine the effect of the selection environment on their performance and genetic variation. Both genetic and economic gains were evaluated with a view to make recommendations to the small and medium scale enterprises with interests in the market. Introgression of temperate germplasm into tropical germplasm elite lines did not disrupt the heterotic groupings because most of the introgressed lines (86%) fitted into known existing heterotic groups. Only 14% of the introgressed lines did not show any inclination to towards the known heterotic clusters of their founder tropical parents. These lines were considered to be new recombinant inbred lines that showed little resemblance with their founder parents. Selection environment did not influence heterotic clustering of the introgressed lines, and genetic diversity was identified among introgressed lines developed in the same environment. Genetic variation was observed for the major economic traits and heritability of 21% to 91%. The introgression was effective for improving grain yield potential and ear prolificacy. Spearman’s rank correlation analysis on grain yield and ear prolificacy data showed significant positive correlation between selection environments such as Ukulinga in South Africa and Kadoma Research Centre in Zimbabwe. Therefore Kadoma Research Centre will be recommended for use in breeding new maize germplasm lines for South Africa. Correlation among traits showed that ear prolificacy and plant height had significant (P<0.05) direct effects on grain yield thus direct selection of these traits will be emphasised in breeding new hybrids. Introgression of temperate germplasm into tropical elite maize inbred lines was effective for improving their adaptation to warm temperate environments. Positive genetic gains of 5-58% were realised for grain yield potential and 26-46% for ear prolificacy. Whereas 1% to 37% gains were realised for secondary traits such as plant and ear height, anthesis and silking days there was barely any improvement for root and stalk lodging, and grain moisture content at harvest. However, introgressed lines displayed impressive performance per se and inter se indicating potential for commercial production. The new inbred line 71-DMLF7_88 combined early physiological maturity, high ear prolificacy and grain yield potential qualifying it as a perfect parent for the warm temperate environments. At least six hybrids were stable and adaptable while four were considered to be ideal genotypes relative to standard commercial hybrids such as PAN6Q445B which is a market leader. The exceptional hybrids, 12C20264, 12C22766, 13XH349 and 11C11774 will be advanced in South Africa. The study also indicated significant economic gains when a shuttle programme is implemented to breed new hybrids following the introgression strategy. The “Shuttle breeding” programme attained a positive net present value (NPV) of $1, 834, 166. 00. This indicated an increase in shareholder value through an opportunity cost of 17% and 3% relative to conventional breeding programmes which are based in South Africa and Zimbabwe, respectively. Positive NPV and genetic gain achieved using the “shuttle breeding” programme makes it a viable option for small and medium scale seed companies with intention to breed and commercialise competitive products in South African. In general, the study revealed that introgression of temperate germplasm into tropical elite inbred lines using a “shuttle breeding” programme was effective for enhancing adaptability of tropical germplasm to the South African warm temperate environments.
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