Main research question/goal
How can we breed new red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) cultivars with a better seed yield? In the POLLINZO project ILVO intends to gain insight into the underlying genetic mechanisms regulating seed production, and the plant’s interactions with its natural pollinators. These insights can assist red clover breeders to develop new varieties with high seed yields. Questions of interest are: which flower characteristics of diploid and tetraploid varieties are related to seed yield? What are the effects of flower characteristics on the behaviour of natural pollinators, and what is their diversity and efficiency of pollination? Which underlying genetic factors are responsible for the seed production and which molecular markers are of use for breeders? The research covers a broad spectrum of different disciplines: behavioural biology, biodiversity of pollinators, plant morphology, physiology, and molecular genetics. Research approach
We first identify in detail which phenotypic flower characteristics of red clover genotypes lead to differences in seed yield. We investigate to which extent these differences in characteristics influence the pollinator’s behaviour. We also determine the pollination efficiency and nature of the different natural pollinators. Further we investigate the effect of frequently used agrochemicals on the behaviour and pollination efficiency of these insects. We investigate the genetic control mechanisms of flower and plant characteristics related to the seed yield in red clover. From this we can develop valuable markers for red clover breeding. Finally, we draw conclusions from the abovementioned data and make correlations to potential management adaptations that result in a positive influence on plant-pollinator interaction, leading ultimately to better seed yield in T. pratense. Relevance/Valorisation
Better seed yield of (tetraploid) red clover would reduce the cost per kg of its seed. This protein-rich fodder crop with a high nutritive value, persistence and yield would become more attractive to cattle farmers. A thorough morphological analysis in the context of plant-pollinator interactions, in combination with specific research towards red clover breeding, can elucidate the relevance of plant characteristics and pollinator populations in order to improve the agricultural production systems in Flanders.