Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version



Published in Crop Sci. 43:1427–1433 (2003).


Selection at the seedling stage in forage grass breeding would be extremely useful if seedling traits are highly heritable and correlated to desired agronomic traits. Objectives of this study were to determine the response to selection for high shoot weight and divergent selection or seedling tiller number in big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii Vitman) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) seedlings and obtain estimates of realized heritability for these traits. Base populations were breeding populations of ‘Pawnee’ big bluestem and ‘Pathfinder’ switchgrass. Divergent selection for single or multiple (three or more) tiller(s) 6 to 8 wk after planting in a greenhouse produced four populations [big bluestem high seedling weight, multiple tiller (BBMT); big bluestem high seedling weight, single tiller (BBST); switchgrass high seedling weight, multiple tiller (SWMT); and switchgrass high seedling weight, single tiller (SWST)], which were planted in isolated polycross nurseries. Seed from polycross nurseries was used to conduct a second cycle of selection. Populations were evaluated in greenhouse studies for fresh weight and tiller number of seedlings. Seedling fresh weight was increased in BBST and SWST Cycle 2 populations, and divergent selection for tiller number resulted in populations significantly different from the base population. Realized heritability estimates for seed- ling tiller number in big bluestem and switchgrass were 0.26 and 0.23, respectively. The effect of genetic modification of seedling tiller number and shoot weight on establishment under field conditions and on mature plant phenotypes will need to be determined.