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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Logan, Utah » Forage and Range Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #334045

Research Project: Develop Improved Plant Genetic Resources to Enhance Pasture and Rangeland Productivity in the Semiarid Regions of the Western U.S.

Location: Forage and Range Research

Title: Assessment of Asian Festuca rubra germplasm for potential to improved rangeland sustainability in the western United States

Author
item Robbins, Matthew
item Staub, Jack
item Bushman, Shaun
item MA, YING MEI - Utah State University
item JOHNSON, PAUL - Utah State University

Submitted to: Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/1/2017
Publication Date: 5/26/2017
Citation: Robbins, M.D., Staub, J.E., Bushman, B.S., Ma, Y., Johnson, P.G. 2017. Assessment of Asian Festuca rubra germplasm for potential to improved rangeland sustainability in the western United States. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution. 64:2127.

Interpretive Summary: Rangeland wildfires are becoming increasingly frequent and widespread worldwide. Wildfire control and post-fire rehabilitation of rangelands in the semi-arid western U.S. have received considerable attention given the substantial economic (e.g., property loss, flooding, erosion) and social (e.g., air and water quality, healthcare, injuries and fatalities) costs of wildfires. Various plant species and landscape or "greenstripping" patterns have been proffered for use in modifying fire escalation and behavior. Plant species that enhance ecological function, possess salinity, drought, and heat tolerance, and remain green throughout the summer are particularly amendable for use in greenstripping on western U.S. rangelands. Fine-leaved Festuca grass species possess drought and shade tolerance, and adaptation to infertile acid soils (pH 5.5 to 6.5) in cool-humid and semi-arid regions, but are not necessarily heat tolerant. Collection of fine fescue grasses from areas of origin has provided genetic resources needed for targeted germplasm enhancement. Thus, in 2006, the USDA-ARS unit in Logan, UT co-sponsored multi-national plant expeditions to Kyrgyzstan and China to collect fine-leaved Festuca grasses species from the fire prone, heavily grazed semi-arid rangelands and then tested these collections (4) in multiple environments in the Great Basin of the western U.S. to determine their genetic relatedness (DNA analysis) and agronomic potential for use in "greenstrips" for wildfire control. The collections were found to be related to each other and to commercial fescue grasses to some extent, and because they were erect (11-15 inches), green, and produced underground roots, with substantial seed yield under harsh semi-arid growing conditions, they have potential for inclusion in plant improvement programs for increased sustainability and wildfire control of western U.S. rangelands. Grasses developed from this germplasm will have direct application in greenstrips to control wildfires and reduce economic losses.

Technical Abstract: There is a need for drought tolerant grass germplasm for use in wildfire control on degraded landscapes on western US rangelands. In 2006, multi-national plant expeditions collected eight fine-leafed Festuca rubra L. (2n = 6x-8x) accessions from the harsh semi-arid rangelands of Kyrgyzstan (KGZ) and the People's Republic of China (PRC) that may have potential for use in western U.S. rangelands. Morphological and marker-based genetic analyses compared these collections with nine commercial cultivars, and four previously described high performance KGZ F. valesiaca Schliech. ex Gaudin subsp. valesiaca plant introductions in the high desert of the U.S. Great Basin. Initially, accession morphology was evaluated over three years at Blue Creek, UT for relative vigor, height, width, total biomass, persistence, and seed yield. Subsequently, a subset of the F. rubra accessions and checks were evaluated at three locations (Malta, ID, Blue Creek, UT, and North Logan, UT) over two years. All entries differed for all traits over years and locations in both trials, and PRC PI 659984 was consistently the best performing F. rubra entry examined. Marker-based genetic comparisons differentiated the F. rubra from the F. valesiaca accessions and the Festuca checks examined, and the F. rubra accessions based on ploidy and geographic origin. Because the F. rubra accessions examined were erect (25.5 - 76.4 cm), green, and rhizomatous with substantial seed fecundity under harsh semi-arid growing conditions, they have potential for inclusion in plant improvement programs for increased sustainability and wildfire control of western U.S. rangelands.