Australia is the world’s largest chickpea exporter with a third of the global export market.
One of the major and ongoing challenges to improving chickpea productivity is chilling and frost damage. Among the grain legumes, chickpea was reported to be particularly sensitive to cool temperatures, with poor seedling growth during winter and abortion of flowers and pods when mean daily temperatures are below 15°C. Due to that, Australian chickpea growers and breeding programs have long recognised cold sensitivity as a major contributor to yield instability associated with chickpea production.
Some of the reasons why chilling tolerance represents a difficult trait for Australian breeding companies to improve is the lack of genetic variation within elite germplasm, as well as the lack of reliable screening (phenotyping) methods.
Prior GRDC investment led to the identification of sources of chilling tolerance in wild Cicer which originated from Turkey from a combination of trials in Turkey and Australia, with much momentum being generated towards the development of segregating populations in elite chickpea germplasm. However, one of the remaining challenges is the difficulties in current phenotyping methods to use in both pre-breeding and commercial applications reliably and efficiently.
To capture the momentum from the potentially useful sources of variation identified and overcome one of the major impediments, this project will aim to complement and strengthen the phenotyping endeavours at CSIRO.
The achievement of such outcomes will not only allow more accurate identification and selection of chilling tolerance traits in pre-breeding activities but increases the likelihood of these traits being adopted and selected through commercial breeding programs and eventually being released to Australian growers.
Under the one-year initiation phase, the project team evaluated more than 350 lines developed from crosses of elite chickpea with wild relatives known to display cold tolerance. Screening has been done under field conditions at Dale, a site recognised for frost tolerance research in WA.
The project will identify list of lines exhibiting reproductive cold and chilling tolerance and standardise protocols for effective screening of chickpeas under chilling temperatures. This information will be shared with chickpea pre-breeders and breeders who will use these outputs in
developing varieties that would downgrade cold sensitivity as a major contributor to yield stability associated with chickpea production.