The potential contribution of wild barley (Hordeum vulgare ssp. spontaneum) germplasm to drought tolerance of cultivated barley (H. vulgare ssp. vulgare)
Improving drought tolerance has always been an important objective in many crop improvement programs and is becoming more important as one way of adapting crops to climate changes. However, due to its complexity, the genetic mechanisms underlying the expression of drought tolerance in plants are poorly understood and this trait is difficult to characterize and quantify. This study assessed the importance of the wild progenitor of cultivated barley, Hordeum spontaneum C. Koch, in contributing developmental and yield-related traits associated with drought tolerance and therefore its usefulness in breeding for improved adaptation to drought stress conditions. Fifty-seven fixed barley lines derived from crosses with two H. spontaneum lines (41-1 and 41-5) were evaluated in Mediterranean low rainfall environments with 10 improved varieties and three landraces for grain yield, developmental and agronomic traits. The study was conducted for three years (2004-2006) in a total of nine environments (location-year combinations), eight in Syria and one in Jordan, which were eventually reduced to seven due to a large error variance in two of them. There was significant genetic variation among the genotypes for most of the traits measured, as well as differential responses of genotypes across environments. Traits such as peduncle length, peduncle extrusion and plant height were positively correlated with grain yield in the dry environments. Differences in phenology were small and not significantly correlated with differences in grain yield under stress. Performances at the three highest yielding environments were much more closely correlated than those at the four stress environments. The GGE biplot analysis allowed identification of genotypes consistently best adapted to the lowest yielding environments and confirmed the existence of unique environments for identifying better adapted genotypes in the low rainfall environments of Syria. The top yielding lines in the driest of the seven environments derived mostly from crosses with H. spontaneum 41-1, while most of the improved varieties showed a positive genotype by environment (GE) interaction with the highest yielding environments. The results of the field experiments indicated that there was variation for grain yield under drought stress among barley genotypes, and that some of the lines derived from H. spontaneum had consistently superior specific adaptation to the range of severe stress conditions used in this study. The usefulness of H. spontaneum in breeding programs for stress conditions is likely to increase in view of the predicted increase in the occurrence of high temperatures and droughts. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.