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Keywords:

  • agronomic traits;
  • defoliation frequency;
  • fertilization;
  • Festuca pratensis Huds.;
  • genetic diversity;
  • RAPD

Permanent pastures and meadows are species-rich vegetation systems that play an important role in the ecology and agriculture of temperate climates. Intensive management reduces species diversity and may also influence the genetic diversity within individual species and populations. The objective of this study was to assess genetic variability of meadow fescue, an important component of species-rich grasslands, and to determine whether fertilization and defoliation frequency influence genetic variability within natural populations. Genetic diversity of six natural populations and three cultivars of Festuca pratensis was investigated using randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) markers and agronomic traits. Samples of natural populations were taken from two unrelated long-term experiments, where treatments had been applied for 11–38 years. RAPD analysis detected a clear genetic distinction of the cultivars from the natural populations. Genetic variability within cultivars was lower than within natural populations. Analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) showed a significant effect of management on genetic variability. Fertilization and frequent defoliation led to a reduction in genetic variability within natural populations. Analysis of agronomic traits was only partially congruent with the results of RAPD analysis. This study shows that significant genetic variability exists within cultivars and natural populations of Festuca pratensis and can be reduced by intensive management.