Can barley (Hordeum vulgare L. s.l.) adapt to fast climate changes? A controlled selection experiment

Fikadu Reta Alemayehu, Georg Frenck, Leon van der Linden, Teis Nørgaard Mikkelsen, Rikke Bagger Jørgensen

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The projected future climate will affect the global agricultural production negatively, however, to keep abreast of the expected increase in global population, the agricultural production must increase. Therefore, to safeguard the future crop yield and quality, the adaptive potential of crops to environmental change needs to be explored in order to select the most productive genotypes. Presently, it is unknown whether cereal crops like spring barley can adapt to climate stressors over relatively few generations. To evaluate if strong selection pressures could change the performance of barley to environmental stress, we conducted a selection experiment over five plant generations (G0–G4) in three scenarios, where atmospheric [CO2] and temperature were increased as single factors and in combination. The treatments represented the expected environmental characteristics in Northern Europe around year 2075 [700 ppm CO2, 22/17 C (day/night)] as well as a control mimicking present day conditions (390 ppm CO2, 19/12 C). Two different barley accessions, a modern cultivar and an old landrace, were evaluated in terms of yield and biomass production. In all treatments representing future environmental scenarios, the G4-generation of selected plants did not improve its reproductive output compared to the G0-generation, as G4 produced less seeds and had a lower yield than unselected plants. These results indicate that barley might not respond positively to rapid and strong selection by elevated [CO2] and temperature, contrary to previous results from oilseed rape. The two barley accessions analyzed presented almost the same response pattern in a given treatment, though the
modern cultivar had the highest yield in the climate scenarios, while the landrace was superior in yield
under present day climate conditions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGenetic Resources and Crop Evolution
Pages (from-to)151–161
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Barley genotypes
  • Breeding
  • Generational selection
  • Genetic adaptation
  • Hordeum vulgare L. s.l.


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