Edzard van Santen

Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences faculty

Plant Breeding


1988 Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison (Plant Breeding & Plant Genetics)
1985 M.S., University of Wisconsin-Madison (Plant Breeding & Plant Genetics)
1988 Staatsexamen, Philipps Univ. Marburg, Germany (Biology and Chemistry)

Professional Activities:

My research program has three main thrust areas (a) applied cultivar development, (b) development of cover crop systems, and (c) studying effects of natural selection on population variation in tall fescue. Applied cultivar development is an integral part of my program. These development efforts concentrate on species that are important to the state and region but are not covered by private industry breeding programs. Since 1988, I have released six new cultivars. The crimson clover cv. AU Robin is developing a reputation as a highly productive and dependable cultivar for both grazing and cover crop purposes. Others such as the new bahiagrass, AU Sand Mountain, still have to prove their worth in the marketplace. The development of new cultivars, which serve the needs of Alabama, will continue. An integral part of my applied breeding program is the development of improved evaluation procedures that will involve the consumer of the forage breeding efforts, the grazing animal, early in the development process. For the development of new cover crop systems I have collaborated over the last 10 years with researchers at the USDA-ARS National Soil Dynamics Laboratory. The objective of this collaborative effort is the development of new cover crops, which might enhance agronomic productivity through the modification of the soil surface layer. One tangible result of this collaboration is AU Homer bitter white lupin, the first new white lupin cultivar to be released in the USA in over 20 years. It has been licensed to a private company for seed increase and marketing and is slowly gaining acceptance. In recent years my research in the area of cover crops has concentrated on the evaluation of cruciferous genera such as Brassica, Raphanus, and Sinapis for their suitability as cover crops in southern corn production systems. Natural selection has a tremendous influence on the population structure of cross-pollinated forage species such as tall fescue; more than 90% of all seed planted never contribute to the mature fescue stand. My graduate students and I have investigated the effect of natural selection. We have shown that a single cultivar will develop into a series of distinct ecotypes over time and that differences among these ecotypes can be linked to climatic variables such as temperature and rainfall. We also demonstrated in another study that populations under grazing pressure had earlier reproductive maturity, higher individual plant dry matter yield, and a larger plant diameter than the original population. In a more recent study we used multivariate statistical techniques to study population differentiation based on joint distributions of morphological traits. Recent advances in molecular techniques and the associated reduction in costs will enable us to take these investigations to the next level. Since 2002 I have become involved in cogongrass research. Our approach has been to move away from the “spray and pray” approach and try to understand this invasive species by studying its biology and genetics. The first tangible result of this research is our ability to link molecular markers to the origin of an accession. This tool will enable us to study the genetic geography of this species. Of particular importance are the mechanisms by which this species expands its range. One current working hypothesis is that pine seedlings are a major mode of long-distance dispersal of vegetative material.Most recently, I have joined the turfgrass research team in the Agronomy and Soils department as breeder and geneticist. This new research effort will address the need for improved turfgrass cultivars for the southeastern United States. In collaboration with a private breeder in Oregon I am developing cultivars in three cool-season species important for the Southeast. My contribution is the selection for turf quality and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses. My colleague will select for traits important for seed yield in Oregon.

Professional Experience:

2002-present Professor, Auburn University
1993-2002 Associate Professor, Auburn University
1988-1993 Assistant Professor, Auburn University

Professional Societies Membership:

  • Chair, Seed cold storage Department, 1993-present
  • Member, Teaching & curriculum Department, 1999-present
  • Member, Varietal release Expt. Stn., 1988-present
  • Member, Visiting scientist College, 1993-95
  • Member, Dean/Director Search College & Exp. Stn., 1998-1999
  • Member, Institutional Biosafety University, 1999-2002
  • Member, International Scholars College, 2000-present


AGRN 7080 Experimental Methods
AGRN 7150 Seminar in Genetics
AGRN 7170 Advanced Plant Breeding
AGRN 7950 Seminar


257 Funchess Hall
Auburn Univ, AL 36849