Phenotypic Changes in Different Spinach Varieties Grown and Selected under Organic Conditions
Organic and low-input agriculture needs flexible varieties that can buffer environmental stress and adapt to the needs of farmers. We implemented an experiment to investigate the evolutionary capacities of a sample of spinach ( Spinacia oleracea L.) population varieties for a number of phenotypic traits. Three farmers cultivated, selected and multiplied one or several populations over two years on their farms. The third year, the versions of the varieties cultivated and selected by the different farmers were compared to the original seed lots they had been given. After two cycles of cultivation and on-farm mass selection, all the observed varieties showed significant phenotypic changes (differences between the original version and the version cultivated by farmers) for morphological and phenological traits. When the divergence among versions within varieties was studied, the results show that the varieties conserved their identity, except for one variety, which evolved in such a way that it may now be considered two different varieties. The heterogeneity of the population varieties was assessed in comparison with a commercial F1 hybrid used as control, and we found no specific differences in phenotypic diversity between the hybrid and population varieties. The phenotypic changes shown by the population varieties in response to on-farm cultivation and selection could be useful for the development of specific adaptation. These results call into question the current European seed legislation and the requirements of phenotypic stability for conservation varieties.
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