Breeding crops for drought-affected environments and improved climate resilience

Cooper M and Messina CD

The Plant Cell


Breeding climate-resilient crops with improved levels of abiotic and biotic stress resistance as a response to climate change presents both opportunities and challenges. Applying the framework of the “breeder’s equation,” which is used to predict the response to selection for a breeding program cycle, we review methodologies and strategies that have been used to successfully breed crops with improved levels of drought resistance, where the target population of environments (TPEs) is a spatially and temporally heterogeneous mixture of drought-affected and favorable (water-sufficient) environments. Long-term improvement of temperate maize for the US corn belt is used as a case study and compared with progress for other crops and geographies. Integration of trait information across scales, from genomes to ecosystems, is needed to accurately predict yield outcomes for genotypes within the current and future TPEs. This will require transdisciplinary teams to explore, identify, and exploit novel opportunities to accelerate breeding program outcomes; both improved germplasm resources and improved products (cultivars, hybrids, clones, and populations) that outperform and replace the products in use by farmers, in combination with modified agronomic management strategies suited to their local environments.