Gene Resources Conservation
The 2006 Gene Conservation Plan for Native Trees of Alberta identifies and describes Alberta’s native tree species and outlines a methodology for identifying and protecting populations of these species to ensure continued forest health and evolutionary resilience.
The conservation plan is important to Alberta because genes represent the potential of any organism, population or species to adapt to the environment. For Alberta’s 28 native tree species, environmental challenges include fragmentation and isolation of populations due to economic development and land-use conversion, climate change and increasing pressures from pests and diseases. These conditions have the potential to erode the genetic variation required for evolution and continued forest productivity and health. The conservation plan and related activities will identify measures to protect this variation for future economic development, scientific study and continued forest evolution and health.
Implementation will occur over the coming decade or so. A formal protocol will help establish conservation priorities by species. The initial conservation emphasis will be on two species for which large-scale planting of traditionally-bred improved trees is in progress (lodgepole pine and white spruce), and two species that are particularly vulnerable to disease, wildfire and climate warming (limber pine and whitebark pine). Efforts to fill gaps in the network of protected populations will be concentrated on Alberta’s public lands. Complementary efforts will be undertaken where candidate populations for protection are outside provincial public lands.
The Parks and Protected Areas Division of Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture and the Forestry Division of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development have an agreement to develop and coordinate implementation of the plan with guidance from the Alberta Forest Genetic Resources Council and in concert with forest companies. The major part of the plan deals with establishment of in situ (within natural habitat) reserves for commercial and non-commercial species. Companies involved in tree improvement have the primary responsibility for establishment and maintenance of reserves for species in their tree-improvement programs. It is envisioned that many of the reserves can be established within the existing Parks and Protected Areas network. However, there will be a requirement for reserves to be established on other public lands for some species and local populations. Coordination between the working group on native tree gene conservation and local contacts and land managers will be crucial for implementation.
Implementation of the plan commences in 2007 with establishment of in situ reserves following gap analysis on a prioritized species basis. An ex situ (away from natural habitat) component of the conservation plan is under development for seed, pollen and plant materials maintained in archives, clone banks and field plantings.
In-situ Conservation in Alberta
- In-situ conservation is important for conserving genes of low frequency, genes which may have value in future breeding as well as conservation of the diversity necessary for the species evolutionary resilience.
- Most of Alberta’s “protected areas” (in-situ conservation areas) are directed to landscape and ecosystem level conservation, appreciation, education and recreation not genetic resource conservation specifically; they include:
- Federal Parks
- Provincial Parks
- Wilderness Parks
- Wilderness Areas
- Ecological Reserves
- Natural Areas
- Special Places
- Was meant to review other provincial protected areas and supplement them by filling “gaps” to meet commitments under the biological diversity convention of the Earth Summit.
- Is based on meeting area targets for landscape themes within Alberta’s Natural Regions
- Rare and Exceptional Stands
- is the only program specifically directed towards forest genetic resource conservation
Ex-situ Conservation in Alberta
- Ex-situ forest genetic conservation efforts in Alberta, to date, are generally more utilitarian in nature and are directed at conservation of genotypes considered to have value for varietal breeding or reclamation. Examples in Alberta include:
- Botanical Gardens
- Devonian Gardens
- Clone Banks
- pine, white spruce and miscellaneous species clone banks at the Alberta Tree Improvement and Seed Centre (ATISC)
- Seed Banks
- seed banks at ATISC and the Alberta Environmental Centre
- Genetic Tests and Seed Orchards
- an important but often overlooked level of ex-situ conservation involving genotypes conserved in provenance trials, progeny trials and seed orchards (often may conserve alleles of low to moderate frequency in a favourable background for breeding)
- Botanical Gardens