With climate change threatening the stability of forest ecosystems and the uncertainty surrounding its future impact, it is essential that the genetic diversity of trees be optimised, particularly at a time when forest plots are being regenerated naturally and through planting. It is also equally important to develop wood production to reduce the commercial deficit of the French wood industry and limit the ecological impact of massive imports from northern or tropical forests.
Our group provides support to the Forestry Ministry to define and implement public policies in this field: conserving indigenous resources, choosing seed origins for plantations, evaluating improved varieties.
Problems and methods
Foresters need fast growing tree varieties that respond to market demands and provide high levels of resistance to environmental hazards (illness, drought, late or early frosts, etc.). It is therefore necessary to study ways in which climate change predictions can be integrated into recommendations designed for conservation measure experts as well as foresters, while taking into account the evolution of user needs and societal expectations.
In order to sustainably preserve the adaptive capabilities of forest tree species and best develop their genetic diversity, that diversity must first be studied with particular focus on adaptive characteristics such as phenology (e.g. late bud opening) and the ability to withstand climatic accidents and various illnesses. We have done this both for natural populations (e.g. elms) and for genetically improved varieties (rapid growth conifers and poplars).
In addition, we oversee national coordination (e.g. Secretariat for the Commission on Genetic Forest Resources) and technical expertise (e.g. seed-tree stand selection) activities.
Expertise and key project aims
Our expertise aims to help promote long-term genetic diversity of forest trees, choose the origin and improved reforestation varieties that provide the best compromise between performance and genetic diversity, and provide information to guide foresters in their choices without damaging local resources.
Conserving forest genetic resources
Conserving the genetic resources of forest trees should not be limited to “statically” preserving that which seems threatened with extinction. In fact, the focus should be less on preserving the past and more about preparing for the future. In this evolutionary point of view, the “dynamic” conservation of genetic resources is recommended. This consists of promoting sexual reproduction and allowing natural selection to take place. We provide our expertise to the Commission for Genetic Forestry Resources (CRGF) and the pan-European EUFORGEN programme (European Forest Genetic Resources Programme), both of whom recommend a set of simple measures for conserving this diversity.
As part of our support for the Ministry of Agriculture, we provide the Technical Department for CRGF and lead the national conservation of genetic resources programme for three species of indigenous elm, victims of the Dutch elm epidemic. The programme includes a static component, based on a National collection of clones from various regions of France (430 clones), and a dynamic component, mainly focused on in situ conservation of smooth elm (Ulmus laevis) populations, implemented in the Garonne and Loire basins in partnership with naturalist managers of the sites involved.
At an international level, we have coordinated a European project on the ex-situ conservation of elms in nine European Union countries and we participate in the EUFORGEN programme.
Seed-tree population selection
Aside from some rapid growth species (cluster pine, Douglas fir, larch, poplar, wild cherry, etc.) that have been subject to genetic improvement programmes, a large proportion of plants used in reforestation come from seeds collected in forests. In order to guarantee the traceability of the origin of these seeds and their genetic quality, harvesting must be carried out in accordance with regulations (forest code and European Directive). For many species, these harvests are only authorised in populations that are duly inscribed in the national register, following an expert visit to ensure the overall quality of the trees (vigour and shape, health, etc.)
Since the 1970s, CEMAGREF (National Centre of Agricultural Machinery, Agricultural Engineering, and Water and Forests) ensures the selection of seed-tree populations and the management of associated administrative and technical data.
In parallel to this ongoing work, and within the context of climatic uncertainty, a far-reaching examination is being undertaken into the type and magnitude of changes that need to be made to the seed-tree population selection criteria as well as into usage advice for the various plant origins. To what extent should the “assisted migration” of plants be encouraged from more southern regions towards usage areas in which local plants may no longer be adapted to the climatic conditions of the second half of the century as anticipated by climatologists? To this end, our group is currently involved in the work of collective research groups on assisted migration while still holding talks with industry representatives (seed merchants, nursery workers, reforesters), relevant public policy decision-makers (MAAPRAT (Ministry for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries, Rural Areas and Land Management) and MEDDTL(Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing)) and foreign counterparts.
Evaluation of improved forest varieties
A programme of seed orchards has been set up in France. The programme was designed by INRA (National Institute of Agricultural Research) and CEMAGREF (National Centre of Agricultural Machinery, Agricultural Engineering, and Water and Forests) and is jointly managed by the ONF (National Forest Office) and the Vilmorin company. This programme is particularly focused on rapid growth conifers. An improvement programme for clonal poplar varieties destined for plywood, light packaging and paper paste production is also underway.
Our work has contributed to the implementation of State seed orchards which will play a significant future role in feeding the forest seed and plant market.
The second stage, underway for approximately fifteen years, consists of verifying the quality of varieties originating from the seed orchards, using in-forest tests to:
- quantify improvements in relation to known indicators,
- evaluate site adoption criteria (survival, health status, sensitivity to frost, drought), growth and wood quality indicators (shape, branching).
We manage over 30 evaluation tests for Douglas firs, larch, pines and spruce spread across the whole of France; there are approximately 20,000 trees to be measured individually. This activity is often carried out in collaboration with other organisations, such as INRA, ONF and CNPPF (National Professional Centre for Forest Property). Currently, we are coordinating the installation of a vast network of tests that will allow usage conditions to be defined for 8 French Douglas fir orchards within an evolving climatic context.
As a member of the Poplar SIG, CEMAGREF participates in the agricultural and health evaluation of cultivars in order to select the most appropriate varieties for French poplar planting. We also contribute to the creation of new varieties that combine productivity and tolerance to various illnesses, particularly leaf diseases. These activities all aim to increase the range of varieties grown in light of environmental evolution and pressure from pathogenic organisms. We are monitoring over 100 operations, or a total of approximately 40,000 trees to be measured.
Rapid environmental changes require reinforced monitoring of tree behaviour and early detection methods for most of the evaluation tests on resinous varieties from poplar orchards and cultivars. For this reason, CEMAGREF hopes to participate in a new diagnosis method using high resolution remote detection.
Statistics on the evolution of the national seed and plant market
Having yearly data on seed harvests and the production and sale of plants allows the supply-demand balance to be assessed, trends to be monitored and forest genetic resource usage to be monitored. This short to long term monitoring tool is particularly useful in light of climate change.
Make-up of the team
|Team Leader||Scientists||Technicians/Assistant Engineers|
- Frascaria Lacoste N.; Henry A.; Gérard P.; Bertolino P.; Collin E.; Fernandez Manjarres J. (2011) “Should Forest Restoration with Natural Hybrids be Allowed?” Restoration Ecology, 19 (6), pp. 701-704.
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- Philippe G.; Matz S.; Curnel Y.; Jacques D.; Lee S. (2006) “Premiers enseignements d'un réseau européen de plantations comparatives de variétés de mélèze hybride (Larix x eurolepis Henry)”. Ingénieries – E A T, no. 45, pp. 73-86.
- Pâques L.E.; Philippe G.; Prat D. (2006) “Identification of European and Japanese larch and their interspecific hybrid with morphological markers: application to young seedlings”. Silvae Genetica, vol. 55, no. 3, pp. 123-134.
- Angelier A.; Héois B.; Philippe G.; Baldet P.; Plas G.; Matz S. (2006) “Evaluer les variétés forestières résineuses issues de vergers à graines: premiers résultats des réseaux expérimentaux ONF-Cemagref”. Rendez-vous Techniques ONF, no. 14, pp. 51-58.
- Goodall Copestake W.P.; Hollingsworth M.L.; Hollingsworth P.M.; Jenkins G.I.; Collin E. (2005) “Molecular markers and ex situ conservation of the European elms (Ulmus spp.)”. Biological Conservation, vol. 122, no. 4, pp. 537-546.
- Pinon J.; Husson C.; Collin E. (2005) “Susceptibility of native French elm clones to Ophiostoma novo-ulmi”. Annals of Forest Science, vol. 62, no. 7, pp. 689-696.
Solla A.; Bohnens J.; Collin E.; Diamandis S.; Franke A.; Gil L.; Buron M.; Santini A.; Mittempergher L.; Pinon J.; Vanden Broeck A. (2005) “Screening European elms for resistance to Ophiostoma novo-ulmi”. Forest Science, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 134-141.