Forest Genetic Research in Alberta
During 2005 and 2006, Council has identified and prioritized some key research needs anticipated by various stakeholders.
Foundations for the discussion included the research gap analysis (see below) and other studies. One stimulus for the work was Council’s belief that anticipated climate and environmental changes could invalidate traditional methods of prioritizing research needs. Forest policy and practice, and the supporting research, have tended to follow a path of risk avoidance. New pressures require us to lean more toward a scientific assessment of the risks and benefits associated with seed transfer and the use of hybrids or exotics. Other issues to be assessed in this way include levels of genetic diversity in deployment populations, selection of fast growing, insect- and stress-resistant forest trees, guidelines for deployment of planting material in the landscape, and guidelines for conservation of forest genetic resources.
Following are the research areas advocated by Council to support the development of science-based policies and practices.
- Research supporting the development of seed transfer guidelines.Transfer rules should be based on knowledge of plant-climate relationships. This research may utilize experimental and modeling approaches.
- Research supporting the development of guidelines for responsible use of exotics, hybrids and out-of-range deployments. This should include consideration of uncertain future climates. Possible approaches may include long-term field testing, ecological niche modeling of risk of invasion, experimental and empirical research on gene flow and fitness.
- Research supporting the development of guidelines for resourceful use of superior genotypes from tree improvement programs. This includes investigating the indirect effects on adaptive traits when selecting for superior growth and the feasibility of selecting for resistance to environmental stresses, including those expected under climate change scenarios.
- Research supporting the development of guidelines for managing genetic diversity at stand and landscape scales. Research should have an emphasis on commercially important species. Possible approaches may include risk-gain modeling of various deployment patterns and genetic diversity levels in populations.
Research Gap Analysis:
A study completed by Council partners, with support from the Alberta Forestry Research Institute, helped pinpoint some forest genetics research needs in the province.
Sixty-three surveys investigating research gaps in forest genetics were completed, categorized and analyzed to better understand the needs of industry, government and academia in Alberta. The survey identified not only gaps in current research, but also gaps in the infrastructure and personnel required to conduct these research activities.
Respondents indicated that there is a lack of basic knowledge about the genetics of tree species found in Alberta. By gaining a better understanding of these trees’ genetic diversity and how performance is linked to site, fundamental questions would be answered that could directly impact deployment strategies, climate change considerations and, ultimately, government policy.
Three areas of work were of priority interest to those who are users of research. They were breeding program expansion, genecological work including basic research, molecular tools and nursery needs, and deployment issues related to both material and policy.
Those who produce research, meanwhile, showed broad levels of support for a more comprehensive range of interests and needs. Categorized by tree type, 56 per cent of the desired projects were related to poplar and 24 per cent to conifer. Most of the remaining projects were not tied to specific species, though one project related to willows.
Two categories of human resources needs and priorities were identified. One related to liaison-type positions that ensure effective knowledge transfer between communities, putting knowledge into practice, and the teaching of undergraduates. The second had to do with additional researchers needed to conduct the work and/or statisticians to analyze the data. The need for quantitative and molecular genetics specialists was specifically identified.
Although only a snap-shot, this survey provided a significant amount of information to assist with determination of next steps and research priorities in the forest genetics community in Alberta.