Agro‑morphological diversity of Nepalese naked barley landraces

Background: Naked barley is a traditional, climate-resilient and highly nutritious crop of the high mountains of Nepal. Knowledge of agro-morphological diversity among the naked barely genotypes is fundamental for their efficient utilization in plant breeding schemes and effective conservation programs. The primary objective of this study is phenotypic characterization and diversity assessment of naked barley landraces in Nepal for pre-breeding purposes.
Methodology: Data on quantitative and qualitative traits of 25 naked barley landraces from diversity blocks established across the four mountainous locations of Nepal (Humla, Jumla, Dolakha and Lamjung) were subjected to calculation of descriptive statistics and multivariate analysis (UPGMA cluster analysis/principal component analysis). Frequency distribution of various categories of qualitative traits and Shannon–Weaver diversity indices were computed.
Results: The UPGMA cluster analysis using both quantitative and qualitative traits individually categorized the 25 naked barley landraces in five clusters in each case with no distinct regional grouping patterns in such a way that the landraces from same or adjacent regions of origin and collection amassed in different clusters. NGRC04894, Lamjung Local, NGRC02306, NPGR1579, NGRC02327 and NPGR1579 exhibited morphoagronomical superiority and potentiality for utilization as genitors in crop improvement programs. Principal component analysis revealed the quantitative traits, viz. grain yield, plant height and earliness, and qualitative traits, viz. grain color, overall phenotypic performance, lemma awn/hood and lemma awn barbs, to be the principal discriminatory characteristics of the Nepalese naked barley landrace collection. The Shannon–Weaver diversity index (H′) ranged from 0.32 to 0.99 with a mean value of 0.73, inferring tremendous diversity in the collection for the qualitative traits. Conclusion: The marked diversity observed among the Nepalese naked barley landraces could be utilized in crop improvement for various traits. The information generated complements the robust breeding program of competitive, stable and climate-resilient varieties of end users’ preferences in different mountainous agro-ecologies and also bolsters the employment of innovative and proven participatory plant breeding approach using diversity kits and informal research and development kits to expand and promote the varietal choice options for expeditious benefits to the farmers in the high mountains, considering that only one naked barley variety, viz. Solu Uwa, has been released in Nepal to date.
Keywords: Naked barley, Diversity, Agro-morphological traits, Nepal