The quince tree (Cydonia oblonga Miller) belongs to the genus Cydonia and originates from temperate regions (Rigitano, 1957). The world production of quinces is 596,532 t; Turkey leads world production with 135,500 t, followed by China, Iran, Argentina, Azerbaijan, and Spain (FAO, 2017).
Horticulture plants—in particular, minor ones, including quince—have been recognized for their human health benefits. They have high contents of non-nutritive, nutritive, and bioactive compounds (Alp et al., 2016; Dogan et al., 2014; Ercisli et al., 2003). For these reasons, quince fruit are used mainly for the processing of jam and jelly or they may be peeled, then roasted, baked, or stewed (Fattouch et al., 2007; Hamauzu et al., 2006; Silva et al., 2004).
Some cultivars have commercial potential that is still unexploited, especially in Brazil; however, quince production has been resumed in subtropical climates (IBGE, 2017). The fruit from most quince cultivars are firm, acidic, and astringent; however, when they are ripe, the fruit have a nice flavor and are used for industrial processing (Leonel et al., 2016). In subtropical regions, the low supply of raw quince material and its consequent valorization has been noticed by canneries that have imported the raw material from Argentina as pulp (Dall’Orto et al., 2007). Despite this positive scenario of quince production in subtropical regions, only the Portugal cultivar is used in canneries (Seifert et al., 2009).
There are few studies on the agronomic performance of quince cultivars cultivated in the tropics, especially in humid subtropical climates, which hiders the selection of cultivars with superior agronomic characteristics and the use of this fruit in regions with a mild climate. In addition, regarding cultivated crops in the tropics, it is possible to harvest fruit trees that originated from areas with temperate climates during low-supply seasons (Barbosa et al., 2010; Chagas et al., 2012). This phenomenon occurs because fruit can be harvested earlier in warmer regions than in colder regions (Souza et al., 2013). This early maturity is a result of the warmer winter, which allows pruning and sprouting to occur in winter because there is no risk of late frost (Bettiol Neto et al., 2011).
Previous studies showed that quince cultivars have high genetic variability (Kafkas et al., 2015; Orhan et al., 2014); hence, the characterization of productive cultivars with high horticultural potential for cultivation in the tropics is crucial to maintain productivity (Manica-Berto et al., 2013). In addition, the selection of cultivars should not be based on a single factor, because cultivars with economic potential have multiple traits of agronomic interest, such as traits related to productive performance, adaptability, and stability in production (Bertini et al., 2010).
To advance the selection of cultivars, tools based on multivariate analyses have become essential in developing studies for plant breeding programs. According to Cruz et al. (2004), comparing results from several multivariate analysis techniques provides a more accurate interpretation of the differences among cultivars, affording a more accurate interpretation of results with a low demand for resources and work in breeding programs.
Another tool widely used in cultivar selection is the multiple-trait selection index, which allows more productive and adapted cultivars to be obtained through combining several attributes. The rank summation index proposed by Mulamba and Mock (1978), as a nonparametric index, has the advantage of not requiring economic weights or the estimated parameters besides averages. In general, the rank summation index is based on genotype ranking in relation to the desired trait and, subsequently, the sum of the ranks of several traits simultaneously (Cruz et al., 2004; Teixeira et al., 2012). Moreover, the selection index based on the sum of standardized variables, or Z-index, is an alternative to other indices. It does not require estimates of genetic and phenotypic covariance and it allows the traits that have favorable effects on the cultivar to be visualized (França et al., 2016).
Thus, the aim of this study was to evaluate the genetic divergence among quince cultivars through multivariate procedures and to identify superior cultivars for cultivation in the tropics through selection indices.
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