Seed transfer and climate change research

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The growth, form, wood quality and health of British Columbia's managed forests depend on tree seedlings being adapted to the range of climates at their planting location. B.C.’s seed transfer system will help ensure that B.C.'s planted forests will be adapted to their climatic environment as described in the Chief Forester’s Standards for Seed Use.

Scientists are increasingly concerned about climate change and predict major changes in climate in the next 50 to 100 years. Assessing the impacts of recent past and expected future climate scenarios will help ensure that B.C.'s planted forests will be adapted throughout their rotation.

Research program

Forest geneticists in the seed transfer research area are seeking new tools and approaches to deal with the threats posed by climate change. The field of genecology, the study of the relationship between patterns of adaptive genetic variation and ecological variation, will improve understanding of the relationship between future climate change scenarios and adaptation in tree breeding programs.

Researchers are exploring opportunities to mitigate negative impacts of climate change on forest health and productivity by using new tools to better match seedlot and site climates and by assisting the migration of seed to keep pace with climate change. These new tools include:

  • Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
  • Fine-scale climate models
  • New analytical techniques

The seed transfer research program has provided substantial support in revising and implementing the Chief Forester’s Standards for Seed Use, representing a consolidation of current knowledge and research results. The program also supports the development of the Gene Resource Conservation and Management Strategy, while contributing to improving industry competitiveness.

Research highlights

  • Analyze climate changes associated with elevation change and a large western larch provenance trial analysis led to the first changes in forest management policy in North America in 2008 and 2010. These changes involved an increase in the upper elevation transfer limits of most commercial tree species in B.C. and an extension of the range to which western larch could be planted.
  • Currently measuring growth and health of trees in the Assisted Migration Adaptation Trial (AMAT)a large, multi-species adaptation trial to better understand Class A seedlot productivity responses across a wide climatic and latitudinal range. The trial consists of 48 test sites in western North America. Results of these trials will predict which orchard seedlots will be most productive for each site under future climate projections.
  • Used data from a large trial (17 test sites) of improved and natural-stand seedlots of interior spruce together with Douglas-fir provenance data to assess deployability of orchard and natural stand seed. This data is also being used to develop a new seed transfer system for B.C.
  • Published the results of two studies to account for population variability and non-climatic effects on growth response functions. This research will improve the ability to accurately predict climate change impacts when making decisions about migrating seed.
  • Developed a method to adjust site index curves, the main driver of forest growth models, to reflect changes in climate.
  • Developed a universal tree seed transfer function derived from site climate and provenance climate, using data available from lodgepole pine provenance trials. The new function will provide better estimates of seed transfer and climate change impacts.
  • Developing a climate-based tree seed transfer system to replace the current geographic-based system and to comprehensively incorporate assisted migration. Using climate criteria for seed deployment will substantially improve adaptation of planted trees, thereby maximizing growth and pest resistance.

Forest genetics and climate change resources