Managing Potato Biodiversity to Cope with Frost Risk in the High Andes: A Modeling Perspective

Austral summer frosts in the Andean highlands are ubiquitous throughout the crop cycle, causing yield losses. In spite of the existing warming trend, climate change models forecast high variability, including freezing temperatures. As the potato center of origin, the region has a rich biodiversity which includes a set of frost resistant genotypes. Four contrasting potato genotypes –representing genetic variability- were considered in the present study: two species of frost resistant native potatoes (the bitter Solanum juzepczukii, var. Luki, and the non-bitter Solanum ajanhuiri, var. Ajanhuiri) and two commercial frost susceptible genotypes (Solanum tuberosum ssp. tuberosum var. Alpha and Solanum tuberosum ssp. andigenum var. Gendarme). The objective of the study was to conduct a comparative growth analysis of four genotypes and modeling their agronomic response under frost events. It included assessing their performance under Andean contrasting agroecological conditions. Independent subsets of data from four field experiments were used to parameterize, calibrate and validate a potato growth model. The validated model was used to ascertain the importance of biodiversity, represented by the four genotypes tested, as constituents of germplasm mixtures in single plots used by local farmers, a coping strategy in the face of climate variability. Also scenarios with a frost routine incorporated in the model were constructed. Luki and Ajanhuiri were the most frost resistant varieties whereas Alpha was the most susceptible. Luki and Ajanhuiri, as monoculture, outperformed the yield obtained with the mixtures under severe frosts. These results highlight the role played by local frost tolerant varieties, and featured the management importance –e.g. clean seed, strategic watering- to attain the yields reported in our experiments. The mixtures of local and introduced potatoes can thus not only provide the products demanded by the markets but also reduce the impact of frosts and thus the vulnerability of the system to abiotic stressors.

Citation: Condori B, Hijmans RJ, Ledent JF, Quiroz R. 2014. Managing Potato Biodiversity to Cope with Frost Risk in the High Andes: A Modeling Perspective. PLoS ONE 9(1): e81510