The widespread practice of planting non-native material can lead to detrimental effects associated with non-adaptedness and the transfer by gene-flow of undesirable alleles into local native populations of the same or closely related species and subspecies.
The use of native material is now being widely encouraged in planting schemes of many kinds. In order to optimise the survival chances and the performance potential of planted populations, it is necessary to select material which will be adapted to the local conditions prevailing at the planting sites. Unfortunately, for most species we have virtually no data on variation in adaptive traits, or even whether any such variation exists over the range of their natural distributions within the UK.
The genetic conservation programme will give a better understanding of the genetic diversity of our native species. The results of this area of research will provide a knowledge base for the development of informed policy for the management and conservation of existing genetic variation in British and European woodlands. In addition, it provides advice and technical support to Forest Reproductive Material Regulations and can provide a service to address other ecological problems.
These have a highly significant contribution to make in elucidating patterns of neutral genetic variation and genetic connectivity upon which conservation strategies can be based.
Use of molecular tools in conservation
Advances in molecular techniques now provide very powerful tools for the identification of species from traces of DNA, for example found in scats or droppings. This can provide a very useful method for identifying the presence of rare species and for monitoring conservation efforts.
These should indicate the existence of any local adaptive variation and also the range of planting sites over which a given provenance may be expected to perform acceptably both now and in the future. In addition they will highlight the genetic distinctiveness of each population.
- Provide a database of representative, indigenous populations of the most important native tree species in Great Britain
- Apply the study of variation in selectively neutral molecular markers to the elucidation of population history and postglacial migration routes, and the implications for conservation
- Use molecular markers in the study of population structure, mating characteristics, and gene-flow within and between populations in order to advise on management strategies for native populations
- Detect patterns of natural variation in adaptive characters in our native tree and shrub species, and to report on the implications for conservation and management
- Landscape genetics is a new research area that aims to integrate landscape ecology, spatial statistics and population genetics. This should provide an insight into the effects of landscape on genetic connectivity of our native species.
- Support Forest Reproductive Material Regulations (FRM) through clonal identification of black poplar clones used as propagating material.
Funders and partners
This research programme is mainly funded by the Forestry Commission Habitat management, protected species, biodiversity, genetic conservation and forest reproductive materials programme.
Forest Research is and has participated in a number of European Union funded studies:
Synthetic maps of gene diversity and provenance performance for utilisation and conservation of oak genetic resources
Intra and interspecific geneflow in oaks
Genetic diversity in the river populations of the European black poplar
Ash trees for the future
European forest genomics network
Establishment of a european information system on forest genetic resources.
Our affiliation with the European Forest Genetic Resources Programme (EUFORGEN) strengthens our commitment to the strategies advocated by that body for the conservation of forest genetic resources. The species under consideration form the basis of several networks in which Forest Research has UK representation.
Other sources of funding:
- Scottish Forestry Trust PhD studentship - Testing the adaptive significance of seed zones in Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). See the article in Ecotype 40 - January 2008 (PDF-645K) - ‘Do seed zones conserve adaptive variation’.
- Cairngorms Biodiversity Grant Scheme-Development of microsatellite markers in Twinflower (Linnaea borealis).
- RSPB development of real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic test to differentiate black grouse, red grouse and capercaillie droppings. See the article in Ecotype 38 - September 2007 (PDF-950K) - ‘Can we tell these three birds apart from their droppings?’
- NERC-PhD studentship in collaboration with Sheffield University to study metabolomics during bud burst in ash.
Forestry Commission policy
All three GB countries are committed to increasing the use of native species in a variety of ways. These include specific actions such as the restoration of ancient semi-natural woodland, the use of PAWS (plantations on ancient woodland sites) together with a general commitment to the increased use of native species in forestry. Correct implementation of this policy depends on a sound knowledge of the genetic structure and origin of populations of native species. The results of our research will ensure that these policies are implemented efficiently.
Forestry Commission policy also aims to facilitate ecological and management adaptation to provide future options to climate change. To assist with this process an Information Note (below) was written to provide background to the role of genetic conservation in dealing with climate change.
The Role of Forest Genetic Resources in Helping British Forests Respond to Climate Change (PDF-960K)
Forestry Commission Information Note 86
Other species and projects
The molecular laboratory has been involved with collaborative projects with other institutes including:
- Genetic diversity of Scottish populations of Scots pine
Collaborative project with the Scottish Crop Research Institute funded by the Scottish Office
- Genetic diversity and gene flow in an English population of Wild Cherry
Collaborative project with East Malling Research funded by Forestry Commission and DEFRA
Molecular studies of Scottish populations of Capercaillie by Aberdeen University funded by the Scottish Office.
The programme commenced in 2000, is reviewed annually and is due to complete in 2015.
Dr Joan Cottrell
Northern Research Station
Midlothian EH25 9SY
Tel: +44 (0)131 445 2176
Tel direct: +44 (0)131 445 6921
Fax: +44 (0)131 445 5124