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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Phenotypic plasticity, QTL mapping and genomic characterization of bud set in black poplar

Francesco Fabbrini1, Muriel Gaudet1, Catherine Bastien2, Giusi Zaina3, Antoine Harfouche1, Isacco Beritognolo14, Nicolas Marron15, Michele Morgante36, Giuseppe Scarascia-Mugnozza17 and Maurizio Sabatti1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department for Innovation in Biological, Agro-food and Forest systems, University of Tuscia, Via S. Camillo de Lellis, Viterbo 01100, Italy

2 INRA, UR 0588, National Institute for Agricultural Research, Orléans 2 F-45075, France

3 Department of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, University of Udine, Via delle Scienze, Udine 33100, Italy

4 Institute for Mediterranean Agriculture and Forest Systems, National Research Council, Via Madonna Alta, Perugia 06128, Italy

5 INRA, UMR 1137, INRA-Nancy University, Champenoux F-54280, France

6 Istituto di Genomica Applicata, Via J. Linussio 51, Udine 33100, Italy

7 Department of Agronomy, Forestry and Land use, Agricultural Research Council, Via del Caravita, Roma 00186, Italy

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BMC Plant Biology 2012, 12:47  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-12-47

Published: 3 April 2012



The genetic control of important adaptive traits, such as bud set, is still poorly understood in most forest trees species. Poplar is an ideal model tree to study bud set because of its indeterminate shoot growth. Thus, a full-sib family derived from an intraspecific cross of P. nigra with 162 clonally replicated progeny was used to assess the phenotypic plasticity and genetic variation of bud set in two sites of contrasting environmental conditions.


Six crucial phenological stages of bud set were scored. Night length appeared to be the most important signal triggering the onset of growth cessation. Nevertheless, the effect of other environmental factors, such as temperature, increased during the process. Moreover, a considerable role of genotype × environment (G × E) interaction was found in all phenological stages with the lowest temperature appearing to influence the sensitivity of the most plastic genotypes.

Descriptors of growth cessation and bud onset explained the largest part of phenotypic variation of the entire process. Quantitative trait loci (QTL) for these traits were detected. For the four selected traits (the onset of growth cessation (date2.5), the transition from shoot to bud (date1.5), the duration of bud formation (subproc1) and bud maturation (subproc2)) eight and sixteen QTL were mapped on the maternal and paternal map, respectively. The identified QTL, each one characterized by small or modest effect, highlighted the complex nature of traits involved in bud set process. Comparison between map location of QTL and P. trichocarpa genome sequence allowed the identification of 13 gene models, 67 bud set-related expressional and six functional candidate genes (CGs). These CGs are functionally related to relevant biological processes, environmental sensing, signaling, and cell growth and development. Some strong QTL had no obvious CGs, and hold great promise to identify unknown genes that affect bud set.


This study provides a better understanding of the physiological and genetic dissection of bud set in poplar. The putative QTL identified will be tested for associations in P. nigra natural populations. The identified QTL and CGs will also serve as useful targets for poplar breeding.