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Breeding wheat for weed-competitive ability: II–measuring gains from selection and local adaptation


Although the effect of local adaptation is well documented in evolutionary biology, few studies have quantified the impact of local adaptation in plant breeding. Decentralized plant breeding programs have the potential to harness local adaptation for crop improvement, but the effectiveness of such models is understudied. We quantified the ability of a decentralized participatory plant breeding program to improve Weed-competitive ability (WCA) in organic spring wheat. After four farmers in the northeast United States selected wheat populations for WCA and its correlated trait of early vigor, we tracked gains in selection and local adaptation. On average, farmers enhanced competitive ability of selected genotypes by 11.46%. Measured gains from selection for early vigor and early canopy cover, however, varied among testing environments. Gains in selection were highly related to the genetic correlation coefficient between selection and testing environment (r = 0.77 and r = 0.80 for early vigor and canopy cover, respectively). To accurately measure gains from selection for decentralized breeding programs, testing environments should be chosen that are similar to where selection took place. Inconsistent weed competition among site-years limited conclusions from the analysis of local adaptation for weed competitive ability. Detecting local adaptation in plant breeding, which typically uses a small number of selection cycles compared to evolutionary biology, likely requires many genotypes, environments, and years for adequate statistical power. The ecological complexity of weed competitive ability further complicates experimental design and challenges the ability to measure local adaption.

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We thank Adirondack Organic Grains, Essex Farm, Grange Corner Farm, Rusted Rooster Farm, and Butterworks Farm for setting research priorities, making selections, and hosting trials. We also thank Tom Molloy, David Benscher, Amy Fox, and Erica Cummings for field support and data collection.


Finding was provided by United States Department of Agriculture, Organic Research and Extension grant 2011–51300-30697; United States Department of Agriculture, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grants LNE12-318 and GNE15-107; Hatch Project 149–430, 149–449; and by United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute for Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grants 2009–65300-05661 and 2011–68002-30029.

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Correspondence to L. Kissing Kucek.

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The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. Mention of trade names or commercial products in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information and does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.

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The datasets generated and analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Kissing Kucek, L., Dawson, J.C., Darby, H. et al. Breeding wheat for weed-competitive ability: II–measuring gains from selection and local adaptation. Euphytica 217, 203 (2021).

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  • Wheat
  • Weed competition
  • Participatory breeding
  • Gains in selection
  • Local adaptation