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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Logan, Utah » Forage and Range Research » Research » Research Project #445071

Research Project: Improved Plant Genetic Resources and Methods to ensure Resilient and Productive Rangelands, Pastures, and Turf Landscapes

Location: Forage and Range Research

Project Number: 2080-21500-002-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Feb 4, 2024
End Date: Feb 3, 2029

Rangelands, pastures, and turf landscapes comprise approximately 41% of the acreage of the contiguous 48 states. These are frequently in semiarid regions where they provide an array of ecosystem services including diverse plants and pollinators, wildlife habitat, livestock grazing, recreational activities, and beauty and attractiveness that enhance quality of life. However, hotter temperatures, increased frequency of drought, and large wildfires have amplified ecosystem degradation and reduced the quantity and quality of ecosystem services provided by range and pasturelands. In addition, turfgrass acreage has been reduced as drought has necessitated water conservation on urban landscapes. Therefore, an increased understanding of the underlying genetics and development of resilient, productive plant materials are needed to continue to keep rangelands, pastures, and urban landscapes healthy and productive. We will build upon the previous project plan and conduct research on increased resilience to climate change and harsh environments, enhanced restoration and ecosystem services of rangelands, improved forage mass and nutritive value, and turfgrass adapted to reduced inputs. Specifically, during the next five years we will focus on the following objectives: Objective 1: Increase the resilience of rangeland, pasture, and turf plants to climate change and environmental stresses. Sub-objective 1.A: Characterize physiological traits in rangeland plants associated with cold and drought tolerance. Sub-objective 1.B: Generate genomic resources that elucidate the genes associated with drought, salt, and biotic stress tolerance in plants. Objective 2: Enhance restoration outcomes and ecosystem services of rangelands through improved plant materials and technologies. Sub-objective 2.A: Implement geospatial sensing technologies to assess ecosystem services provided by rangeland plants. Sub-objective 2.B: Generate new high-throughput phenotyping tools and validate genomic selection models that were developed for breeding grasses used in rangeland restoration in the prior project. Sub-objective 2.C: Develop new plant germplasm and cultivars with improved seed yield and establishment for restoration of semiarid rangelands. Sub-objective 2.D: Develop methodology and plant resources for semiarid rangelands that enhance floral resources for bees and other pollinators. Objective 3: Improve the forage mass and nutritive value of pasture and rangeland plants. Sub-objective 3.A: Generate genomic and high-throughput phenotyping tools to characterize and advance genetic selection of grasses and forbs for improved forage mass, nutritive value, and novel uses. Sub-objective 3.B: Develop and evaluate plant germplasm and cultivars with improved forage mass and nutritive value. Objective 4: Develop genomic technologies and plant materials for reduced-input turfgrass. Sub-objective 4.A: Generate genomic and high-throughput phenotyping tools to characterize and advance turfgrass breeding. Sub-objective 4.B: Develop new turf germplasm and cultivars with improved aesthetic value for reduced-input landscapes.

Plant breeding and genomics, computational biology, and ecological approaches using multi-location field evaluations, greenhouse microcosm experiments, geospatial analysis and high-throughput phenotyping (HTP) models, GBS and GWAS, and genomic prediction models will be used to achieve the following hypotheses and research goals. Hypothesis 1.A.1: The detrimental effects of cold temperatures on bluebunch wheatgrass (BBWG) seedling vigor and growth will be exacerbated under conditions of high photochemical stress. Hypothesis 1.A.2: Reductions in leaf and root growth following defoliation will be more pronounced under low soil water content compared to high soil water content. Research Goal 1.B.1: Develop gene annotation strategies to enhance breeding of turf and forage germplasm with increased drought tolerance. Research Goal 1.B.2: Identify and quantify levels of salt tolerance in rangeland grasses. Research Goal 2.A.1: Develop a geospatial protocol for predicting resilience to climate change on wild horse and burro habitats. 2.A.2: Plant material used in current Conservation Reserve Program areas throughout the Western U.S. will not adapt to the predicted harsher climatic changes. Research Goal 2.B.1-2.B.2: Calibrate and validate HTP and genomic selection models for bluebunch wheatgrass seedling vigor, seedling establishment, and plant-persistence. Hypothesis 2.C.1: Selection for deep-seeding emergence and spike number improves seed-yield components. Research Goal 2.C.2: Develop basin wildrye germplasm with seed-shattering resistance, short stature, and high seed-yield potential. Hypothesis 2.D.1: Pollinator-friendly plant species establish better when a snow fence is used. Research Goal 2.D.2: Develop genome assemblies and annotations to improve the understanding of genetic diversity in penstemon. Research Goal 2.D.3-2.D.5: Release a new germplasms/cultivars of basalt and cicer milkvetch and small burnet with improved seed yield, germination and establishment, persistence, high forage mass production, and/or establishment. Research Goal 3.A.1-3.A.2: Validate and refine HTP tools and genomic selection models for intermediate wheatgrass forage mass, sustained grain yield, and domestication traits. Hypothesis 3.A.3: Heterosis for forage mass can be identified in alfalfa inbreds after 2, 3, and 4 generations of selfing. Research Goal 3.B.1: Release a new cultivar of forage kochia with improved forage quality for fall and winter grazing. Research Goal 3.B.2: Expand genomic resources and develop improved forage-type tall fescue. Research Goal 3.B.3: Use genomic, phenotyping, and breeding methods to develop orchardgrass with increased nutritive value, later maturity, and choke tolerance. Hypothesis 4.A.1: High-throughput phenotyping models will more accurately and rapidly assess turf quality than the traditional rating scale. Research Goal 4.A.2: Develop genotyping methods and pipelines that distinguish cultivars, breeding lines, and hybrids of turfgrasses. Research Goal 4.B.1-4.B.2: Develop and release crested and thickspike wheatgrass, alpine fescue, perennial ryegrass, and Kentucky bluegrass germplasms for low-input turfgrass landscapes.