National Tree Day brings new tree breeding strategies

Image from Wikipedia.

Vancouver – BC’s forests cover two-thirds of the province’s total landmass and generate more than $11.6 billion in economic activity each year.

One of BC’s largest manufacturing sectors and its largest single source of exports, forestry accounts for 58,200 jobs in this province.

On average, more than 200 million tree seedlings are planted each year on public forestland in BC. That’s more than 7 billion trees since reforestation programs began in the 1930s. Tree breeding programs in BC have decades of knowledge and meticulous records to draw upon ensuring the health and wood quality of breeding populations. However, changing environments and conditions can throw a wrench into these plans.

Genomics research can provide some of the tools needed adjust to disturbances, and could help improve the way forests are managed and conserved. One such application by the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) is to enhance the understanding of a tree’s pest and pathogen resistance, for example, to inform tree breeding programs tasked with forest stewardship.

Genome BC is funding two new projects specifically aimed at conifer health and wood quality, including the potential application of genomics in the tree-breeding program for Western red cedar to identify and select for commercially important traits, and to ensure future populations are adapted to changing climates. Another project is implementation genomic selection in coastal Douglas-fir breeding, capitalizing on decades of knowledge from prior tree-breeding efforts, and aiming to select genetic attributes for enhanced wood quality in much younger tree populations than previous methods.

“Genomics tools and new management strategies will not only help our new forests better cope with climate change, they will help sustain our forest industry, our economy and our environment” says Brian Barber, a registered professional forester and the director of Tree Improvement Branch at MFLNRO.

“For the past decade, Genome BC has made a substantial investment in forestry genomics, seeding a strong ‘sector franchise’,” says Dr. Alan Winter, the groups’s president and CEO. “Conifers are economically and ecologically important trees and genomics research has given us a much better understanding of how they are interacting with their changing environments, particularly their defence and resistance.”

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