Forest in the lab – new film explains genetic monitoring of forests

In this short video, Bernd Degen, Head of the Institute of Forest Genetics at von Thünen Institute, Germany and one of the partners in the FORGER project, explains the essence of genetic monitoring and walks us through the laboratories where samples of trees are examined.

Genetic diversity, defined as the total amount of genetic differences within species, is a major element of biodiversity and the basis for adaptation to changes such as climate change. Monitoring tree genetic diversity is important as it helps to track losses or changes in allelic diversity due to natural processes, or a combination of these processes and management practices. It also allows one to evaluate the long-term sustainability of the ongoing management of forests and whether it needs to be improved.

Assessment of the current distribution of genetic diversity provides a useful baseline to compare with results of repeated measurements, as part of the monitoring process, but to assess genetic diversity at a European scale, it is necessary to develop a sound and common monitoring protocol which can be applied to different tree species across Europe.

It has been hard to widely apply genetic monitoring approaches because the indicators proposed are considered difficult to measure, costly and tend to be neglected by the national policies, more focused towards biodiversity conservation. However, today’s strong advance in genomics and statistical tools makes genetic monitoring more efficient and economical.

The FORGER project is testing an improved protocol through a pilot study on the monitoring of demographic and genetic parameters for the model species Fagus sylvatica, Picea abies and Quercus robur, and Pinus pinaster in different European countries. The selected areas cover different levels of human intervention to estimate potential effects of management on the genetic composition.

As Dr Degen says in the video, the protocol's innovativeness lies in it being very practical and cost-effective. It will allow European countries to finally include tree genetic diversity in their forest conservation strategies, filling thus the gap between science and policy.