Root imaging showing comparisons in root distribution and ontogeny in novel Festulolium populations and closely related perennial ryegrass varieties

The incorporation of new sophisticated phenotyping technologies within a crop improvement program allows for a plant breeding strategy that can include selections for major root traits previously inaccessible due to the challenges in their phenotype assessment. High‐throughput precision phenotyping technology is employed to evaluate root ontogeny and progressive changes to root architecture of both novel amphiploid and introgression lines of Festulolium over four consecutive months of the growing season and these compared under the same time frame to that of closely related perennial ryegrass (L. perenne) varieties. Root imaging using conventional photography and assembled multiple merged images was used to compare frequencies in root number, their distribution within 0–20 and 20–40 cm depths within soil columns, and progressive changes over time. The Festulolium hybrids had more extensive root systems in comparison with L. perenne, and this was especially evident at depth. It was shown that the acquisition of extensive root systems in Festulolium hybrids was not dependent on the presence of an entire Festuca genome. On the contrary, the most pronounced effect on root development within the four Festulolium populations studied was observed in the introgression line Bx509, where a single small genome sequence from F. arundinacea had been previously transferred onto its homoeologous site on the long arm of chromosome 3 of an otherwise complete L. perenne genome. This demonstrates that a targeted introgression‐breeding approach may be sufficient to confer a significant improvement in the root morphology in Lolium without a significant compromise to its genome integrity. The forage production of Bx509 was either higher (months 1–3) or equivalent to (month 4) that of its L. perenne parent control demonstrating that the enhanced root development achieved by the introgression line was without compromise to its agronomic performance.