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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: IMPROVED PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES FOR PASTURES AND RANGELANDS IN THE TEMPERATE SEMIARID REGIONS OF THE WESTERN U.S.

Location: Forage and Range Research

2008 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
Evaluate and develop new germplasm and cultivars with enhanced seed production, germination, seedling vigor, salinity tolerance, winter hardiness, drought tolerance, and forage yield and quality and verify their ability to improve the sustainability and productivity of rangelands and pastures in the semiarid western U.S. • Objective 1: Collect, characterize, and evaluate grass, legume, and forb germplasm for genetic variation, adaptation, establishment and forage characteristics for use on Western rangelands and the rangeland-urban interface. • Objective 2: Describe and identify useful traits for improved forages, using physiological, biochemical, and genomic techniques. • Objective 3: Identify breeding and selection strategies to make plant selection more effective. • Objective 4: Develop germplasm/pre-variety germplasm/cultivars of grasses, legumes, and forbs with improved seed production, seedling establishment, forage production, persistence, and drought tolerance on rangelands of the Western U.S. • Objective 5: Develop and evaluate new plant cultivars that are more tolerant of biotic and abiotic stresses, more competitive, more persistent, and easier to establish and maintain in irrigated pastures in the Intermountain West. • Objective 6: Identify functional differences between invasive weeds and improved plant materials and evaluate potential methods and improved plant materials to diversify crested wheatgrass communities.


1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Combine expertise of a research team of plant breeders, plant physiologists, ecologists, and molecular biologists to acquire, characterize, and breed native and introduced range, pasture, low-maintenance turf, and bioenergy plant materials. There is a need for additional plant materials for the conservation, restoration, renovation, and reclamation of range and forage lands, including irrigated pastures. New releases will provide improved plants needed to establish and maintain economically and environmentally sustainable pastures and rangelands in the semiarid regions of the Intermountain West. Identify new sources of genetic diversity for cultivar development. Describe establishment of grasses, legumes, and forbs characteristics such as ability to sustain high quality forage on disturbed sites under grazing pressure when competing with invasive weeds, and important physiological and biochemical mechanisms. Molecular and cytogenetic approaches will be used to identify and characterize genetic mechanisms to improve efficiency of genetic enhancement and plant breeding. The competitive ability of released plant materials will be enhanced for traits such as seed germination, seedling vigor, rhizome development, salinity tolerance, drought tolerance, and forage quality and yield. The new plant materials will be evaluated for their improved ability to perform key ecological functions, satisfying the diverse needs of our customers. Evaluate potential invasiveness of new plant germplasm.


3.Progress Report
This year, the Forage and Range Research Laboratory (FRRL) released four cultivars; Vavilov II Siberian wheatgrass, Hycrest II crested wheatgrass, DON falcate alfalfa, and Continental basin wildrye. Additionally, it released two germplasms, Discovery Snake River wheatgrass and NBR-1 Germplasm basalt milkvetch. These plant materials have potential to dramatically help public and private range specialists in rangeland revegetation, especially in those situations where growing sites restrict germination and emergence (e.g., wildfire burn and mining sites). This year the dollar value of seed sales from these and other FRRL plant materials was $7,826,707 with 1,072,269 lbs. of seed sold.

Laboratory and field experimentation associated with identification of plant endophytes, DNA sequence characterization of genomic regions (e.g., Y-genome specific STS marker in Triticaeae and Adh2, Adh3, and waxy genes in Elymus and Pseudoroegneria species), and EST library development with subsequent subtractive hybridization analysis for alfalfa, Newhy wheatgrass, and Kentucky bluegrass is ongoing. The successful application of these biotechnologies has led and is leading to the identification and characterization of genes associated with economically important traits. Additionally, 280 genes were mapped (i.e., 30 for lignin biosynthesis) in creeping x basin wildrye breeding populations, and genomic regions for growth habit, seed shattering, salt tolerance, and novel vegetative traits (e.g., cuticular wax) were identified in Triticeae and other species (i.e., Elymus, and alafalfa). The judicious genomic identification of such traits and the integration of endophytes in novel plant materials for rangelands, pastures, and turf will lead to more efficient breeding methods that will shorten the time of germplasm release which will in turn improve the competitiveness of rangeland practitioners. This project contributes to NP 215 by developing and transferring economically viable and environmentally sustainable plant materials that conserve and enhance the Nation's diverse natural resources found on its range, pasture, hay and turf lands. It also supports the ARS Strategic Goal 6 ‘Protect and Enhance the Nation’s Natural Resource Base and Environment’


4.Accomplishments
1. The Forage and Range Research Laboratory (FRRL) has developed many of the plant materials presently used on Western US rangelands. The FRRL is recognized for integrated research in breeding, genomics and ecological applications of perennial plants for semi-arid environments. The FRRL develops plant materials for pastures, turf and rangeland to reduce inputs, establish stands in disturbed soils, and maximize productivity. This year, the FRRL released four cultivars; Vavilov II Siberian wheatgrass, Hycrest II crested wheatgrass, DON falcate alfalfa, and Continental basin wildrye. Additionally, it released two germplasms, Discovery Snake River wheatgrass and NBR-1 Germplasm basalt milkvetch. Annual wildfires destroy rangeland and take human and animal lives at a cost of billions of dollars to the U.S. agricultural economy (eg., 2007 U.S. Great Basin Area wildfires). The plant materials released by the FRRL assist public and private range specialists in rangeland revegetation after wildfires for their restoration, especially in those situations where growing sites restrict germination and emergence (e.g., wildfire burn and mining sites). Seed sales (dollar value) from these and other FRRL plant materials acquired by the BLM and private ranchers represent a significant portion of the seed market share annually (e.g., $7,826,707, where 1,072,269 lbs. of seed were sold in 2007). This project contributes to NP 215 by developing and transferring economically viable and environmentally sustainable plant materials that conserve and enhance the Nation's diverse natural resources found on its range, pasture, hay and turf lands.

2. Improved ‘Vavilov II’ Siberian wheatgrass for rangeland revegetation: Vast areas of semiarid rangeland in the western U.S. are severely disturbed, frequently burned, increasingly eroded, and subsequently infested with troublesome weeds such as cheatgrass on sandy soils. Reseeding disturbed rangelands with genetically improved plant materials that are competitive enough (seedling establishment and persistence) to replace existing undesirable vegetation is often the most plausible and economically feasible way to reclaim such sites. Vavilov II Siberian wheatgrass was developed for reseeding disturbed rangelands dominated by annual weeds. During the establishment year, Vavilov II had higher numbers of seedlings per unit area than Vavilov at Yakima, WA (52 vs 23%); Fillmore, UT (79 vs 54%); Dugway, UT (79 vs 52%); and Curlew Valley, ID (70 vs 40%). Vavilov II was more persistent than Vavilov at Yakima, WA (68 vs 44%); Fillmore, UT (84 vs 62%); Curlew Valley, ID (69 vs 55%); and Malta, ID (97 vs 91%). Impact: Vavilov II has been distributed to six Department of Defense facilities and is estimated that it will be a component in seed mixtures for over 40 military facilities encompassing over 1 million acres. Stock seed is available through the Utah Crop Improvement Association and they anticipate that Vavilov II will capture the Siberian wheatgrass market. However, the major impact will be the ability of this cultivar to establish on harsh-dry rangelands conserving soils and reducing fire cycles. This project contributes to NP 215 by developing and transferring economically viable and environmentally sustainable plant materials that conserve and enhance the Nation's diverse natural resources found on its range, pasture, hay and turf lands. It also supports the ARS Strategic Goal 6 ‘Protect and Enhance the Nation’s Natural Resource Base and Environment’

3. Improved ‘Hycrest II’ crested wheatgrass for rangeland revegetation: The control of cheatgrass without replacement by desirable perennial species frequently results in the reestablishment of cheatgrass or other noxious weeds on disturbed rangeland. It has been estimated that cheatgrass has displaced around 10 million ha of perennial vegetation within the Great Basin. ‘Hycrest II’ crested wheatgrass was developed for reseeding disturbed rangelands dominated by annual weeds as a result of severe disturbance, frequent wild fires, and soil erosion on heavy soils. Hycrest II had more seedlings per unit area during the establishment year than did the cultivar Hycrest at Blue Creek, UT (76 vs 65%); Green Canyon, UT (78 vs 61%); Mandan, ND (78 vs 69%); Miles City, MT (85 vs 72%); Dugway, UT (35 vs 10%); and Stone, ID (72 vs 56%). At Dugway, UT, Hycrest II (35%) had significantly more seedlings per unit area than did CD II (13%). Hycrest II is currently under certified seed production with six commercial companies and the Utah Crop Improvement Association anticipates there to be a need for over 5000 lbs of stock seed this year for distribution to seed companies. Based on stock seed demands, it is anticipated that Hycrest II will capture a large portion of the crested wheatgrass market in the future. However, the major impact will be the ability of this cultivar to establish on harsh-dry rangelands conserving soils and reducing fire cycles. This project will contribute to NP 215 by developing and transferring economically viable and environmentally sustainable plant materials that conserve and enhance the Nation's diverse natural resources found on its range, pasture, hay and turf lands. It also supports the ARS Strategic Goal 6 ‘Protect and Enhance the Nation’s Natural Resource Base and Environment.’

4. Genetic dissection and mapping of native grass seed production, germination, and shattering genes: Seed shattering and premature seed harvesting contributes to high seed cost and poor seed quality of native grasses. The FRRL genetically mapped chromosome regions controlling the number of seeds per plant, percent of flowers with seed, seed germination, and percent seed shattering using experimental hybrids of basin wildrye and creeping wildrye. These experiments pin-pointed a major-effect seed retention gene that will reduce seed loss and improve seed development and quality in basin wildrye and other related grasses where seed shattering reduces seed yield significantly. This seed retention gene was also aligned to chromosome regions known to control seed disarticulation in American wildrice, which indicates possible application in a broad array of plants and plant genomic research. This project will contribute to NP 215 by developing and transferring economically viable and environmentally sustainable plant materials that conserve and enhance the Nation's diverse natural resources found on its range, pasture, hay, and turf lands. It also supports the ARS Strategic Goal 6 ‘Protect and Enhance the Nation’s Natural Resource Base and Environment’.

5. Quantitative characterization of competitive ability for shrub-steppe ecosystem growth forms: Characterizing competition for nitrogen between native and introduced restoration species when competing with invasive species is needed in order to make informed decisions about the use of plant materials in revegetation efforts. Studies were conducted that directly compare native and introduced species for competition with each other and with key invasive species that cause serious degradation to rangelands, including reducing species diversity and perpetuating wildfires. This new information is also the first assessment of the competitive ability of forage kochia, an important reclamation species whose use has been previously questioned or avoided based on lack of quantitative data. In addition, this study furthers our mechanistic understanding of how two of the most problematic invasive species cheatgrass and dyer's woad become dominant within rangelands. Here, we identified that unlike invasive grasses (cheatgrass), invasive forbs like dyer’s woad do not use competition for nitrogen as a mechanism to reduce growth of native and introduced reclamation species. This novel study was published in the journal Invasive Plant Science and Management. This research directly addresses the NP215 action plan goal of identifying “plant materials and integrated management strategies”.

6. Development of ‘DON’ falcata alfalfa: Legumes, when grown with grasses on pasture and rangelands, increase overall productivity and quality of forage. However, forage legumes available for use on pastures and rangelands of the western U.S. often lack long persistence. ‘DON’ falcata alfalfa (Released 2008)was developed to persist under harsh conditions typical of western U.S. rangelands. DON can increase the productivity of rangelands and pastures and persists even under harsh conditions. This project will contribute to NP 215 by developing and transferring economically viable and environmentally sustainable plant materials that conserve and enhance the Nation's diverse natural resources found on its range, pasture, hay, and turf lands. It also supports the ARS Strategic Goal 6 ‘Protect and Enhance the Nation’s Natural Resource Base and Environment’.

7. Development of EST libraries for three Triticeae genera: Gene discovery efforts in Triticeae are severely hampered by the lack of genomic resources. Three libraries were constructed, annotated based on sequence homology to rice and other grasses, genetic map positions of ESTs were predicted based on map positions of orthologous rice sequences, DNA markers were developed and used in genetic diversity and genetic mapping studies, a user friendly database constructed and curated through a cooperator, and results were published in a peer reviewed journal. This will mostly affect other Triticeae scientists, including those interested in wheat and barley, as well as grass evolutionary biologists. This is an open resource of DNA sequences compared to all other substantial grass DNA sequences. This research is coded 100% NP 215, “Pasture, Forage, Turf and Range Land Systems.” This project will contribute to NP 215 by developing and transferring economically viable and environmentally sustainable plant materials that conserve and enhance the Nation's diverse natural resources found on its range, pasture, hay and turf lands. It also supports the ARS Strategic Goal 6 ‘Protect and Enhance the Nation’s Natural Resource Base and Environment’.

8. First evaluation of Plateau herbicide in two Great Basin ecosystem: The EPA has recently cleared the use of Plateau ® herbicide (aka Imazapic) for invasive plant control and fuel reduction on rangelands. Studies were conducted in two of the dominant plant communities at relatively low elevations devastated by cheatgrass: namely salt desert shrub and Wyoming big sagebrush-steppe. A model was developed to help land managers proactively use Imazapic in an ecologically based integrated pest management program. This study demonstrated that control of cheatgrass was actually greater in the drier Salt desert shrub than the mesic Wyoming big sagebrush-steppe plant community resulting from a reduced seed bank of cheatgrass in the salt desert shrub environment. In addition, we characterized the best set of perennial grasses to establish when cheatgrass has been effectively controlled with Imazapic. Likewise, we show and explain that poor performing perennial grasses are not necessarily a consequence of poor vigor and competitive ability with cheatgrass, but a direct consequence of greater mortality and sensitivity to Imazapic. Thus, land managers and researchers now have a clearer understanding of the complex interactions to consider when adopting the promising strategy that includes the combined use of Imazapic to control cheatgrass followed by rangeland seedings with and desirable perennial grasses and forage kochia to prevent reinvasion and further ecosystem degradation. This study is currently under review in the peer-reviewed journal Invasive Plant Science and Management. This research directly addresses the NP215 action plan goal of identifying “plant materials and integrated management strategies”.

9. Improved Selection Procedures in Pasture Grasses: Most forage breeding programs have used spaced-plant evaluation to predict sward yield of forage grasses. However, the validity of this procedure has been questioned, and its use may be partially responsible for the past lack of gains in forage yield. This experiment measured genetic parameters and calculated the efficiency of spaced-plant evaluation to indirectly improve sward yield and nutritional quality in tall fescue. Results showed that spaced-plant evaluation appears to be less effective, or ineffective, at improving sward yield and nutritional quality in tall fescue. The published paper (Crop Science. 2007. 48:443-449) will help make forage breeders aware of this problem, and should stimulate research into new techniques that maximize genetic expression, but simulate actual sward production. This accomplishment directly contributes to the accomplishment of ARS National Program #215 Rangeland, Pasture, and Forages by developing and transferring economically viable and environmentally sustainable plant materials that conserve and enhance the Nation's diverse natural resources found on its range, pasture, hay, and turf lands. It also supports the ARS Strategic Goal 6 ‘Protect and Enhance the Nation’s Natural Resource Base and Environment’.

10. ‘Discovery’ Snake River wheatgrass with improved seedling establishment: Increased establishment success of native grasses on western rangelands will benefit the health of livestock and wildlife, allow the land to recover from wildfire, and limit the spread of invasive weeds. This accomplishment relates to subobjective 6.3.1 (improve management practices and technologies for managing pasture and range lands to improve economic profitability and enhance environmental values) and to ARS National Program #215 (Rangeland, Pasture, and Forages).


5.Significant Activities that Support Special Target Populations
During 2008, the Forage and Range Research Lab conducted an outreach program that included speakers from FRRL and surrounding Universities. This program addressed the following subjects; pasture grasses and legumes, rangeland grasses, when and how to plant rangelands, and seeding mixtures. It was taken to five locations across Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado. Attendance at each of the meetings ranged from 35 to 125 and included ranchers, farmers, and public land agencies. Distributed at each program were handouts and the ‘Intermountain Planting Guide’. Given the response the last two years we will continue to go each year to four or five locations.


6.Technology Transfer

Number of New Germplasm Releases6
Number of Non-Peer Reviewed Presentations and Proceedings12

Review Publications
Bushman, B.S., Halse, R., Sedegui, M. 2007. Waxy Mannagrass is established in two Oregon counties. Crop Management doi:10.1094/CM-2007-20924-01-RS

Koo, B.C., Bushman, B.S., Mott, I.W. 2008. Transcript associated with non-acclimated freezing response in two barley cultivars. Plant Gen. 1:21-32

Kaur, P., Larson, S.R., Bushman, B.S., Wang, R., Hole, D., Thimmapuram, J., Gong, G., Liu, L., Mott, I.W. 2008. Genes Controlling Plant Growth Habit in Leymus (Triticeae); Maize Barren Stalk1 (Bal), Rice Lax Panicle, and Wheat Tiller Inhibition (Tin3) Genes as Possible Candidates. Functional and Integrative Genomics 8:375-386

Kaur, P., Mott, I.W., Larson, S.R., Bushman, B.S., Kim, R.W., Hernandez, A.G., Liu, L., Mikel, M.A. 2008. Gene Expression Polymorphisms and ESTs Associated With Gravitropic Response of Subterranean Branch Meristems and Growth Habit in Leymus Wildryes. Plant Science 175:330-338

Johnson, D.A., Jones, T.A., Connors, K.J., Bhattarai, K., Bushman, B.S., Jensen, K.B. 2008. Notice of Release of NBR-1 Germplasm Basalt Milkvetch. Native Plant Journal 9:127-132.

Jensen, K.B., Waldron, B.L., Robins, J.G., Monaco, T.A., Peel, M. 2008. Breeding Meadow Bromegrass for Forage Characteristics under a Linesource Irrigation Design. Can. J. Plant Sci. 88:695-703.

Waldron, B.L., Robins, J.G., Peel, M., Jensen, K.B. 2008. Genetic Estimates for Forage Yield and Nutritional Quality of Tall Fescue Grown Under Spaced Plant and Sward Conditions. Crop Sci. 48: 443-449

Jones, T.A., Larson, S.R., Wilson, B.L. 2008. Genetic Differentiation and Hybridization Among Festuca Idahoensis, F. Roemeri, and F. Ovina Detected From AFLP, ITS, and Chloroplast DNA. Botany 86:422-434

Chen, D., Liang, M.X., Dewald, D., Weimer, B., Peel, M., Bugbee, B., Michaelson, J., Davis, E., Wu, Y. 2008. Identification of Dehydration Responsive Genes from Two Non-Nodulated Alfalfa Cultivars Using Medicago Truncatula Microarrays. Acta Physiologiae Plantarum 30:183-199

Robins, J.G., Luth, D., Campbell, T.A., Bauchan, G.R., He, C.N., Viands, D.R., Hansen, J.L., Brummer, E.C. 2007. Genetic mapping of biomass production in tetraploid alfalfa (medicago sativa l.). Crop Science. 47: 1-10

Robins, J.G., Waldron, B.L., Johnson, P.G. 2007. Potential for the Improvement of Turf Quality in Crested Wheatgrass for Low-Maintenance Conditions. HortScience. 42:1526-1529.

Liu, Z., Yue, W., Li, D., Wang, R., Kong, X.Y., Lu, K., Wang, G.X., Dong, Y., Jin, W.W., Zhang, X. 2008. Structure and Dynamics of Retrotransposons at Wheat Centromeres and Pericentromeres. Chromosoma DOI 10.1007/s00412-008-0161-9, 2008

Zhou, R-N., Shi, R., Jiang, S-M., Yin, W-B., Wang, H-H., Chen, Y-H., Hu, J., Wang, R. R.-C., Zhang, X-Q., Hu, Z-M. 2008. Rapid EST isolation from chromosome 1R of rye. BMC Plant Biology doi:10.1186/1471-2229-8-28.

Last Modified: 7/30/2014
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