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James W. Olmstead, Hilda Patricia Rodríguez Armenta and Paul M. Lyrene

Because of financial and labor concerns, growers are interested in using machine harvesting for fruit destined to be fresh marketed. Machine harvest of highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) has typically been used to obtain large volumes of fruit destined for processing. Bush architecture, easy detachment of mature berries compared with immature berries, loose fruit clusters, small stem scar, firm fruit, and a concentrated ripening period are breeding goals to develop cultivars amenable to machine harvest. In the University of Florida (UF) southern highbush blueberry [SHB (Vaccinium corymbosum hybrids)] breeding program, sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) has been used in wide crosses in an attempt to introgress traits that may be valuable for machine harvesting, namely upright growth habit with a narrow crown and long flower and fruit pedicels creating loose fruit clusters. Two eras of sparkleberry hybridization experiments have occurred since the early 1980s. The first era used darrow’s evergreen blueberry (Vaccinium darrowii) as a bridge between sparkleberry and tetraploid SHB, with the recently released cultivar FL 01-173 (sold under the trademarked name Meadowlark) as an example of the end product. The second era has used chromosome doubling to develop polyploid sparkleberry selections that were directly crossed with tetraploid SHB. After 1 year of evaluation, a SHB × (SHB × sparkleberry) population developed for linkage and quantitative trait locus mapping showed abundant variation for length:width ratio of the plant, but similarity to the highbush phenotype for peduncle and pedicel length of the fruit. These first evaluations indicate evidence of introgression and provide an initial step toward improved cultivars for mechanical harvesting.

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Gerardo H. Nunez, Hilda Patricia Rodríguez-Armenta, Rebecca L. Darnell and James W. Olmstead

Root growth and root system architecture (RSA) are affected by edaphic and genetic factors and they can impact plant growth and farm profitability. Southern highbush blueberries [SHBs (Vaccinium corymbosum hybrids)] develop shallow, fibrous root systems, and exhibit a preference for acidic soils where water and ammonium are readily available. The amendments used to create these soil conditions negatively affect the profitability of SHB plantations. Hence, breeding for RSA traits has been suggested as an alternative to soil amendments. Vaccinium arboreum is a wild species that is used in SHB breeding. V. arboreum exhibits greater drought tolerance and broader soil pH adaptation than SHB, and—according to anecdotal evidence—it develops deep, taproot-like root systems. The present study constitutes the first in-depth study of the RSA of Vaccinium species with the intention of facilitating breeding for RSA traits. Root systems were studied in rhizotron-grown seedling families. In separate experiments, we tested the effect that growth substrate and family pedigree can have on root growth and RSA. Subsequently, a genotyping by sequence approach was used to develop single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers that could be used along with the phenotyping method to investigate the heritability of RSA traits and look for marker-trait associations. We found that RSA is affected by growth substrate and family pedigree. In addition, we found that V. arboreum exhibited greater maximum root depth and a lower percentage of roots in the top 8 cm of soil than SHB, and interspecific hybrids generally exhibited intermediate phenotypes. Also, we found that RSA traits exhibit moderate to low heritability and genetic correlations among them. Finally, we found 59 marker-trait associations. Among these markers, 37 were found to be located in exons, and 16 of them were annotated based on protein homology with entries in National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) GenBank. Altogether, the present study provides tools that can be used to breed for root architecture traits in SHB.