Vigorous early-season growth rate allows crops to compete more effectively against weeds and to conserve soil moisture in arid areas. These traits are of increasing economic importance due to changing consumer demand, reduced labor availability, and climate-change-related increasing global aridity. Many crop species, including common bean, show genetic variation in growth rate, between varieties. Despite this, the genetic basis of early-season growth has not been well-resolved in the species, in part due to historic phenotyping challenges. Using a range of UAV- and ground-based methods, we evaluated the early-season growth vigor of two populations. These growth data were used to find genetic regions associated with several growth parameters. Our results suggest that early-season growth rate is the result of complex interactions between several genetic and environmental factors. They also highlight the need for high-precision phenotyping provided by UAVs. The quantitative trait loci (QTLs) identified in this study are the first in common bean to be identified remotely using UAV technology. These will be useful for developing crop varieties that compete with weeds and use water more effectively. Ultimately, this will improve crop productivity in the face of changing climatic conditions and will mitigate the need for water and resource-intensive forms of weed control.
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