In recent years, turfgrass breeders have given increased attention to the development of lower maintenance turfgrass cultivars. Fine fescues (Festuca spp.) have been identified as potential candidate species for low-maintenance lawns because of their reduced need for water, mowing, and fertilizer. Unfortunately, these species have some weaknesses that must be improved to facilitate their use; perhaps, the most important of these is tolerance to wear and traffic. For this trait to be improved in new cultivars, there must be sufficient heritable variation available for plant breeders to exploit; however, little is known about the heritability of this complex trait in fine fescue species. Therefore, the objective of this study was to determine the heritability of wear and traffic tolerance in three fine fescue species. Replicated field studies were established in North Brunswick, NJ, and St. Paul, MN, and each included 157 Chewing’s fescue (Festuca rubra L. subsp. fallax), 155 hard fescue (Festuca brevipilia), and 149 strong creeping red fescue (F. rubra L. subsp. rubra) genotypes. Wear tolerance was evaluated in North Brunswick and traffic tolerance was evaluated in St. Paul during 2015 and 2016 using different simulators to determine both plant performance and broad-sense heritability estimates for wear and traffic tolerance. Broad-sense heritability estimates for the three species when calculated on a clonal basis was between 0.69 and 0.82 for wear tolerance in the North Brunswick location and between 0.49 and 0.60 for traffic tolerance in the St. Paul location. On a single-plant basis, broad-sense heritability estimates for the three species were between 0.31 and 0.45 for wear tolerance in the North Brunswick location and 0.09 and 0.12 for traffic tolerance in St. Paul. However, this research does indicate that improvement of wear and traffic tolerance in fine fescues is possible through recurrent breeding methods based on selection of replicated clonally propagated genotypes rather than selection of single individual plants of a population. This was the first study to determine the genetic effects of wear and traffic tolerance in any turfgrass species.
This project was supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Specialty Crops Research Initiative under award number 2012-51181-19932, and the Rutgers Center for Turfgrass Science.
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