Banking on the future: progress, challenges and opportunities for the genetic conservation of forest trees
Genetic diversity provides the essential basis for the adaptation and resilience of tree species to environmental stress and change. The genetic conservation of tree species is an urgent global necessity as forest conversion and fragmentation continue apace, damaging insects and pathogens are transported between continents, and climate change alters local habitat suitability. Effective and efficient genetic conservation of tree species presents a substantial challenge because of the lack of basic information about many species, inadequate resources, and a historical lack of coordination within and between conservation sectors. Several cooperative efforts are already under way and are achieving conservation success, but much work remains. The Gene Conservation of Tree Species— Banking on the Future workshop in 2016 enabled the exchange of information and the creation of collaborations among tree conservation stakeholders. Several key themes emerged during the meeting’s presentations and dialogue, which are further explored in this paper. In situ conservation of species is the long-term goal and is often the most efficient approach for preserving the genetic diversity of many forest tree species. Whether existing reserves adequately protect species and are sufficient for future conservation needs is uncertain. Ex situ conservation is an important complement to in situ efforts, acting as an insurance measure against extinction, providing material for restoration, enabling additional research opportunities, and educating the public. Networks of botanic gardens, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations must continue to coordinate ex situ and in situ efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of tree conservation efforts. Assessing and prioritizing which species and populations require genetic conservation and prioritizing among them is a critical need. Two key tree restoration needs are for wider dissemination of planting stock, particularly stock with resistance to insects and pathogens, and for specific silvicultural prescriptions that facilitate restoration efforts. Effective genetic conservation of forest trees will require ongoing cooperation among widely diverse groups of scientists, managers, and policymakers from the public and private sectors.