Subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum L.) is a diploid self-pollinated annual pasture legume native to the Mediterranean region and widely sown in southern Australia and other countries with Mediterranean-type climates. This study utilised a core collection of 97 lines, representing around 80% of the genetic diversity of the species, to examine morphological diversity within subterranean clover. A total of 23 quantitative agro-morphological and 13 semi-quantitative morphological marker traits were assayed on the core collection and 28 diverse Australian cultivars as spaced plants in a replicated common garden experiment. Relationships between these traits and 24 climatic and edaphic parameters at their sites of origin were also examined within the core collection. Significant diversity was present for all traits. The Australian cultivars had similar levels of diversity to the core collection for several traits. Among the agro-morphological traits, time to flowering, leaf size and petiole diameter in mid-winter, plant area in late winter, maximum stem length, content of the oestogenic isoflavone biochanin A and total isoflavone content, were correlated with seven or more environmental variables. These can be considered highly adaptive, being the result of strong environmental selection pressure over time. For the first time in a clover species, morphological markers, including leaf mark, anthocyanin pigmentation and pubescence traits, have been associated with rainfall and soil parameters. This suggests they either have an adaptive role or the genes controlling them may be linked to other genes controlling adaptive traits. This study demonstrated the value of core collections to examine diversity within much larger global collections. It also identified adaptive traits from wild plants that can be utilised to develop more productive and persistent subterranean clover cultivars. The high heritability of these traits indicates that selection gains can be readily made.
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S1 Fig. Mean monthly maximum and minimum temperatures in 2014 for Swanbourne, Western Australia, 3 km from the characterisation site (Data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology).