Project objectives

The climatic scenario predicted for Mediterranean areas poses specific challenges for agricultural productions. The vulnerability of agricultural sectors to the modification of agro-climatic conditions depends on both the expected regional climate change and the sectors’ ability to adapt. For their perennial status, fruit tree crops are particularly exposed to environmental change. Quality and quantity of fruit productions are strongly affected by genotype x environment interactions.

The FREECLIMB project is built to match topic 1.2.1 of the PRIMA (Sect. 2) framework in developing smart and sustainable farming systems in Mediterranean countries, to preserve natural resources (water and land use) by increasing production efficiency. This will be pursued by advancing knowledge on mechanisms of plant environmental adaptation and biotic/abiotic stress resilience. The project targets major fruit tree species with the aim of improving the availability of breeding and germplasm material adapted to limited external resources (input) and future climatic scenarios predicted for the Mediterranean area, through the characterization and exploitation of local biodiversity. The project will focus on key ideotypes elaborated in collaboration with Fruit Farming Actors (FFAs, breeders, nurseries, growers) with the core objective of providing a toolkit (diverse germplasm, tools and methods) to accelerate exploitation, breeding and selection of resilient varieties in key traditional fruit crops of Mediterranean agriculture (stone fruits such as peach, apricot and almond; Citrus spp.; grape and olive).

To these ends, the project will pursue the following specific objectives:
i) applying protocols (e.g. phenotyping methods) and integrated tools (e.g. genotyping methods, data analysis) to support the characterization, exploitation and selection of varieties adapted to a range of agro- ecological and management conditions;
ii) dissecting the genetic bases of traits/processes linked to sustainability and plant resilience to biotic and abiotic stresses, with particular focus on disentangling genotype-by-environment-by-management (GxExM) interactions;
iii) unravelling the molecular, biochemical and physiological basis of plant adaptation to different environmental (soil and climate) and agronomic conditions (water management) and to biotic/abiotic (single or multiple) stresses;
iv) developing and applying genomics-based breeding methods to improve introgression and selection efficiency;
v) devising adaptation strategies to cope with the combined effects of multiple stresses possibly co-occurring under field conditions (e.g heat waves and drought, pests and diseases);
vi) exploiting germplasm resources, by identifying and characterizing spontaneous and domesticated sources of biodiversity;
vii) transferring project results through training and dissemination activities dedicated especially to breeders (focusing on young scientists), nurserymen, growers and stakeholders, particularly in those countries where fruit production is less developed.

Considering Southern countries climate as representative of changing scenarios predicted for Northern ones, FREECLIMB will strongly benefit from collaboration between the South and North Mediterranean shores: for each species targeted by the project at least two countries are involved one from the North and one from the South. The balanced composition of the consortium ensures an equal footing approach with particular attention to co- ownership of results, mutual interest and shared benefits.