Designer Forests: Scientists Hope to Tune Up Canada's Trees to Thrive in Changing Climate
Vancouver Sun (February 26, 2017)

Forest geneticists aim to tune up Canada’s working forests with trees better suited to changing climate conditions and that increase timber yields by up to 30 per cent in the bargain.

The $5.8-million project won’t be creating genetically engineered trees, rather the researchers will scour the genes of diverse existing populations of important species such as Douglas fir and lodgepole pine for useful and often highly localized adaptations to heat, cold, drought, snow and rain. 

“Trees of the same species from warm places tend to grow longer and faster than trees from colder places, but they might be less cold hardy,” said lead researcher Sally Aitken, a forestry professor at the University of British Columbia. “So there is significant genetic variation between a larch from one place and another.”

The CoAdapTree project will identify trees with patterns of traits better adapted to areas where existing tree populations are struggling because of climate change.

“Better matching trees with new climates will improve the health and productivity of planted forests,” she said, adding the new approach using genomics and seedling trials will yield answers within a few years.

The strategy is a departure from traditional thinking, going back centuries, which held that the local populations of trees would be best adapted to their immediate environment. Based on that thinking, the seeds used to grow trees for reforestation would be gathered from local tree populations, grown and returned to the same area.

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