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Molecular genetic diversity and association mapping of nut and kernel traits in Slovenian hazelnut (Corylus avellana) germplasm
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European hazelnut (Corylus avellana L.), cultivated in several areas of the world including Europe, Anatolia, and the USA, is an economically important nut crop due to its high mineral, oleic acid, amino acid, and phenolic compound content and pleasant flavor. This study examined molecular genetic diversity and population structure of 54 wild accessions and 48 cultivars from the Slovenian national hazelnut collection using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) and simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers. Eleven AFLP primer combinations and 49 SSR markers yielded 532 and 504 polymorphic fragments, respectively. As expected for a wind-pollinated, self-incompatible species, levels of genetic diversity were high with cultivars and wild accessions having mean dissimilarity values of 0.50 and 0.60, respectively. In general, cultivars and wild accessions clustered separately in dendrogram, principal coordinate, and population structure analyses with regional clustering of the wild material. The accessions were also characterized for ten nut and seven kernel traits and some wild accessions were shown to have breeding potential. Morphological principal component analysis showed distinct clustering of cultivars and wild accessions. An association mapping panel composed of 64 hazelnut cultivars and wild accessions had considerable variation for the nut and kernel quality traits. Morphological and molecular data were associated to identify markers controlling the traits. In all, 49 SSR markers were significantly associated with nut and kernel traits [P < 0.0001 and LD value (r2) = 0.15–0.50]. This work is the first use of association mapping in hazelnut and has identified molecular markers associated with important quality parameters in this important nut crop.