With the increased emphasis on using native plant materials in range revegetation programs in the western United States it is critical to identify genetically similar groups and develop native grasses that are competitive with invasive weeds, easy to establish, and persistent, and that produce high seed yield. A grass that shows appreciable drought tolerance on arid rangelands is Snake River wheatgrass (Elymus wawawaiensis J. Carlson & Barkworth). This study was designed to estimate genetic relationships and underlying genetic components for seed and forage trait improvement between plant introductions (PIs) of Snake River wheatgrass, 28 half-sib Snake River wheatgrass families (HSFs), and cultivars Secar and Discovery at Nephi, Utah, between 2005 and 2006. Based on molecular genetic diversity data in Snake River wheatgrass, with the exception of the PIs originating from Enterprise, Oregon, all other collections and cultivars are not genetically different and represent a common gene pool from which to develop improved Snake River wheatgrass germplasm. Selection in Snake River wheatgrass for total seed yield (g · plot−1), 100-seed weight (g), and seedling emergence from a deep planting depth had a positive effect. Further increases through selection and genetic introgression from hybridization with PIs will likely increase seed yield and 100-seed weight, but will not increase seedling emergence. Increases in dry matter yield (DMY) were observed after two cycles of selection in the HSFs compared to the PIs. There remains considerable genetic and phenotypic variation to further increase DMY in Snake River wheatgrass through selection and hybridization. Trends in forage nutritional quality were not observed after two cycles of selection in the HSFs or the PIs and will not likely result in improvement. Through recurrent selection, populations of Snake River wheatgrass have been and can be developed to more effectively establish and compete on annual weed–infested rangelands.
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