Forest genetic conservation research

Last updated on January 29, 2024

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The conservation of forest tree genetic resources has gained enormous attention around the world due to the increasing need to address issues of sustainability. Forest genetic conservation is critical to maintaining stewardship responsibilities in British Columbia.

The B.C. government undertakes both theoretical research and the practical applications of genetic conservation activities. Government scientists advise the province’s chief forester on genetic resource management issues as they pertain to seed supply, timber supply analysis, deployment and planning.


In the early 1980s, genetic conservation strategies emerged within the forest genetics community, including approaches for operational tree breeding. However, many agencies and programs were not able to address these issues at the time, as the methodology of tree improvement was still developing from crop species techniques.

Although genetic conservation has been discussed for many years in conservation literature, few practical initiatives were developed. While it was desirable to think of wild populations such as protected parklands as being prudent to maintain, our understanding of their utility for genetic conservation was limited to representing a given ecosystem or providing habitat for a species. Short and long-term selection experiments showed that ample genetic variation was still preserved even in small breeding populations of maize, fruit flies and other species, even after many generations of selection.

We are only now beginning to understand the genetic implications of protected areas and population sizes needed to maintain adaptive capacity over the long term, especially in light of predicted changes in climate and their impacts on species and populations within protected areas.

On-site activities

Since 1996, the area and local resources protected in parks and reserves in B.C. have more than doubled from six percent to over 12 percent, representing a wide range of habitats.

At the University of British Columbia (UBC), a cataloging project was undertaken to re-examine the conservation status of forest tree gene resources using geographic information systems (GIS) and newer inventory databases since the initial survey.

Future research

The UBC cataloging project represents an important milestone in documenting baseline status of on-site conservation of forest tree genetic resources in B.C. The data and subsequent reporting functions will help to evaluate whether conservation gaps are being filled, and to revise the analysis as additional inventory data becomes available.

Achievements of the project include:

  • Documenting and spatially delineating progeny tests and other research installations as primary inter situ populations in the conservation plan for each species
  • Evaluating the potential effects of various climate change scenarios on currently identified in situ reserves, for various species in different seed planning zones or biogeoclimatic units
  • Developing methodology and ground-truthing key in situ populations for model species with varying distributions
  • Supporting program development and planning to fill in the gaps identified in the cataloguing project, revise species range models, and ultimately provide valuable input to agencies and regional governments to prioritize areas for conservation