The genetic control of important adaptive traits, such as bud set, is still poorly understood in most forest trees species. Poplar is an ideal model tree to study bud set because of its indeterminate shoot growth. Thus, a full-sib family derived from an intraspecific cross of P. nigra with 162 clonally replicated progeny was used to assess the phenotypic plasticity and genetic variation of bud set in two sites of contrasting environmental conditions.
Six crucial phenological stages of bud set were scored. Night length appeared to be the most important signal triggering the onset of growth cessation. Nevertheless, the effect of other environmental factors, such as temperature, increased during the process. Moreover, a considerable role of genotype × environment (G × E) interaction was found in all phenological stages with the lowest temperature appearing to influence the sensitivity of the most plastic genotypes.
Descriptors of growth cessation and bud onset explained the largest part of phenotypic variation of the entire process. Quantitative trait loci (QTL) for these traits were detected. For the four selected traits (the onset of growth cessation (date2.5), the transition from shoot to bud (date1.5), the duration of bud formation (subproc1) and bud maturation (subproc2)) eight and sixteen QTL were mapped on the maternal and paternal map, respectively. The identified QTL, each one characterized by small or modest effect, highlighted the complex nature of traits involved in bud set process. Comparison between map location of QTL and P. trichocarpa genome sequence allowed the identification of 13 gene models, 67 bud set-related expressional and six functional candidate genes (CGs). These CGs are functionally related to relevant biological processes, environmental sensing, signaling, and cell growth and development. Some strong QTL had no obvious CGs, and hold great promise to identify unknown genes that affect bud set.
This study provides a better understanding of the physiological and genetic dissection of bud set in poplar. The putative QTL identified will be tested for associations in P. nigra natural populations. The identified QTL and CGs will also serve as useful targets for poplar breeding.