Increased genetic diversity improves crop yield stability under climate variability: a computational study on sunflower

Increased genetic diversity improves crop yield stability under climate variability: a computational study on sunflower

Pierre Casadebaig (1), Ronan Trépos (2), Victor Picheny (2), Nicolas B. Langlade (3), Patrick Vincourt (3), Philippe Debaeke (1) ((1) INRA, UMR1248 AGIR, Castanet-Tolosan, France, (2) INRA, UR875 MIAT, Castanet-Tolosan, France, (3) INRA, UMR441 LIPM, Castanet-Tolosan, France)
(Submitted on 12 Mar 2014)

A crop can be represented as a biotechnical system in which components are either chosen (cultivar, management) or given (soil, climate) and whose combination generates highly variable stress patterns and yield responses. Here, we used modeling and simulation to predict the crop phenotypic plasticity resulting from the interaction of plant traits (G), climatic variability (E) and management actions (M). We designed two in silico experiments that compared existing and virtual sunflower cultivars (Helianthus annuus L.) in a target population of cropping environments by simulating a range of indicators of crop performance. Optimization methods were then used to search for GEM combinations that matched desired crop specifications. Computational experiments showed that the fit of particular cultivars in specific environments is gradually increasing with the knowledge of pedo-climatic conditions. At the regional scale, tuning the choice of cultivar impacted crop performance the same magnitude as the effect of yearly genetic progress made by breeding. When considering virtual genetic material, designed by recombining plant traits, cultivar choice had a greater positive impact on crop performance and stability. Results suggested that breeding for key traits conferring plant plasticity improved cultivar global adaptation capacity whereas increasing genetic diversity allowed to choose cultivars with distinctive traits that were more adapted to specific conditions. Consequently, breeding genetic material that is both plastic and diverse may improve yield stability of agricultural systems exposed to climatic variability. We argue that process-based modeling could help enhancing spatial management of cultivated genetic diversity and could be integrated in functional breeding approaches.

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