Adaptive management of forests and their genetic resources in the face of climate change

Scientists within the EU-funded project FORGER endeavoured to determine the extent to which four widespread forest tree species in Europe may be affected by climatic change, by making use of field trials and modelling tools.

A common practice in forest genetic studies is the planting of trees of different origin in common sites to assess the performance of tree populations across a range of conditions (‘provenance trials’). Trees planted at sites with a climate substantially different from their origin are exposed to changes in their environmental conditions that may mimic the effect of climatic changes. Based on the analysis of the performance of tree populations in these trials, FORGER developed projections of future responses of trees to climatic changes.

The modelling of tree growth, forest dynamics and forest ecosystem functioning carried out within FORGER included genetic processes. The new model developed enables a projection of the adaptive response and evolution of genetic diversity of forest ecosystems exposed to climate change, expressed through growth and survival under changing environmental conditions. Moreover, the model allows to assess whether the adaptive responses to climate change may be enhanced by particular management practices.

In this brief, recommendations are provided to decision makers on measures to improve the adaptive management of forests and their genetic resources, based on insights on expected responses to future climatic changes in four model tree species studied.

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Opportunities to improve genetic conservation of four important European tree species

Forest genetic resources (FGR) form the base for adaptation of European forests to future environmental conditions and societal demands. Genetic diversity, i.e. diversity withinspecies, allows a species to evolve over time and in space and plays a key role for both the long-term survival of a species and the stability of forest ecosystems. It is thereby a fundamental and critical part of biodiversity.

Much of the data on genetic diversity of economically important forest tree species in Europe is gathered in the GeoReferenced Database of Genetic Diversity (GD2). This database, constructed and curated by the EVOLTREE network of excellence, compiles all genetic surveys that have been published and documented so far in European forest tree species. Recently, European countries completed an extensive inventory of standardized geo-referenced information on genetic conservation units, and the tree species occuring within these units, as part of the EUFGIS project.

One of the main aims of the FORGER project was to link the observations performed on genetic diversity, available in the GD2 database, and the general information on genetic conservation units, available in the EUFGIS database. The linked databases would provide stakeholders with a genetic characterization of the FGR currently conserved at pan-European level in the genetic conservation units. Another objective of FORGER was to identify gaps in current FGR conservation efforts.
In this brief, results and recommendations on these subjects can be found.

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Does the transfer of forest reproductive material significantly affect local tree diversity?

Genetic variation within tree species is an important component of forest biodiversity. It enables forest ecosystems to adapt to environmental changes and it provides genetic material for breeding to sustainably increase production. In the framework of forestry activities, tree genetic resources are often transferred in the form of forest reproductive material (FRM). Given the crucial role of the quality of FRM (e.g. seeds and seedlings) in successful forestry and the implications for biodiversity conservation, it is of crucial importance to know where it originates from. New data compiled in the context of the project FORGER indicate that the movement of FRM is considerable, with patterns that vary significantly across species and among EU member states. However, data on FRM movements are very scattered. Both the movement of FRM and its use have been poorly documented by individual countries, despite the importance of this information in supporting the implementation of adaptive forest management practices.

Knowledge of the ‘exact identity’ of FRM, and associated information on the performance of FRM from different sources, are considered critical elements in support of decision making in forestry and conservation actions. Despite five decades having passed since the first legislation on the trade (quantity and quality) of FRM translocated among member states, no evaluation has yet been performed on it. No monitoring has been conducted in order to assess the suitability of the FRM moved to the particular conditions of the site of introduction. Also no guidance has been provided to the countries—whether exporting or importing FRM— on how to perform appropriate monitoring and improve the records on the FRM moved.

In FORGER for the first time existing data on the transfer of FRM within Europe have been evaluated. In this brief, the results of these evaluations for some of the main tree species in Europe are presented and the effects of the transfer are discussed.

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