Historically, there has been a high consumer expectation for turfgrass quality and performance in home lawns and landscapes leading to greater fertilizer use and water consumption over the years (Osmond and Hardy, 2004). Interest in conserving natural resources has grown within both the public sector and various political groups (Hamrick, 2016). As restrictions on pesticide and water use on turfgrass landscapes become more prevalent, there will be increased demand for sustainable solutions. Yue et al. (2017) showed that many consumers are environmentally conscious and would be willing to pay more for low-maintenance grasses, which suggests that turfgrass breeders should devote more resources to the development of low-input turfgrass species.
Fine fescues (Fescue spp.) are considered to be among the best low-maintenance cool-season turfgrasses (Bonos and Huff, 2013; Dernoeden et al., 1994) and provide a number of benefits for low-input turf uses. Fine fescues are generally adapted to dry, shady, low pH conditions, and perform best in well drained soils that are not saturated (Bertin et al., 2009; Rummele et al., 2003). Fine fescues can develop dense, fine turf cover requiring low amounts of water, fertilizer, and pesticides.
Three of the fine fescue species most widely used for turfgrass areas are strong creeping red fescue (F. rubra L. subsp. rubra), Chewing’s fescue [F. rubra L. subsp. fallax (Thuill.) Nyman], and hard fescue (F. brevipilia Tracey). Strong creeping red fescue has a rhizomatous growth habit which aids in recovery when leaf tissue is severely damaged; however, it does not have high levels of drought tolerance when compared with other fescue species such as hard fescue (Smith et al., 2010) and does not produce turf as dense as Chewing’s and hard fescues. Strong creeping red fescue is also more susceptible to dollar spot (caused by Sclerotinia homoeocarpa F.T. Benn), red thread [caused by Laetisaria fuciformis (McAlpine) Burds.] and leaf spot diseases (caused by Bipolaris spp.) than Chewing’s and hard fescues (Han et al., 2003; Shortell et al., 2005). Chewing’s fescue is a bunch-type grass able to withstand lower mowing heights than most other fine fescues, allowing it to be used on golf courses (Watkins et al., 2010). Hard fescue, also a bunch-type grass, has been shown to perform the best out of all the fine fescue species in low-maintenance situations and usually maintains its dark green color longer in drought conditions (Cortese et al., 2011), especially on sandy, well-drained soils. However, in heavier soils, hard fescue can be severely affetced by summer patch disease (caused by Magnaportheopsis poae Landschoot and N. Jackson).
For low-input turfgrasses to be useful they also need to meet the demands required of turf landscapes, such as recreational uses in home lawns, parks, or athletic fields. This includes the ability to withstand and maintain quality under wear and traffic conditions. Turfgrass traffic tolerance is made up of two components: wear and compaction (soil surface disruption) (Beard, 1973). Wear stress includes tissue tearing, tissue bruising, and tissue removal resulting from horizontal forces, whereas surface soil disruption includes soil compaction and displacement as a result of vertical forces (Vanini et al., 2007). Therefore, it is important to distinguish between the two types of traffic when developing a turfgrass. Most traffic tolerance research in turfgrass systems has focused on higher maintenance situations such as athletic fields (Brosnan et al., 2005; Carroll and Petrovic, 1991; Samaranayake et al., 2008).
Wear or traffic tolerance is a critical need in fine fescue development, especially because fine fescues are known for their poor performance under wear or traffic conditions. They lack traffic tolerance and have very slow recuperative ability compared with other cool-season turfgrasses (Bonos and Huff, 2013). In fact, they are often not used in high traffic areas. This attribute was also found to be the most important to consumers (Yue et al., 2017), so it is important to improve wear/traffic tolerance in fine fescues that otherwise perform at acceptable levels under low maintenance. A few recent studies have shown that fine fescues have the potential to perform well under wear in low-maintenance situations (Cortese et al., 2011; Horgan et al., 2007; Watkins et al., 2010). In addition, considerable genetic variability in wear tolerance (Bonos et al., 2001; Cross et al., 2013) or traffic tolerance (Chen et al., 2014) has been observed within the fine leaf fescues under medium maintenance management. However, no research has been conducted to characterize the genetic contribution of wear or traffic tolerance in any turfgrass species.
Understanding the genetic and environmental effects on the phenotypic expression of a trait is useful to develop a breeding strategy to improve the trait. Heritability determines the amount of variability in the phenotype that is due to genetic and environmental factors. Heritability calculations give a measure of the genetic component controlling the phenotype, so the larger the value of heritability, the more quickly and less intensively improvement of a trait can be made (Nyquist and Baker, 1991). Breeders can only manipulate genetic factors and, therefore, a large genetic component is desired over a large environmental component which cannot be influenced by selection. Because heritability estimates are not known for traffic or wear tolerance in any turfgrass species, the objective of this study was to estimate the variance components and broad-sense heritability of wear and traffic tolerance in three of the most widely used fine fescue species.
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