Forests in the Mediterranean and similar biodiversity hotspot regions are degrading rapidly due to the interaction of multiple stressors – both natural and anthropogenic. The accelerated degradation poses a serious threat to the diversity of forest genetic resources (FGR).
To that end, a IUFRO Task Force (TF): Strengthening Mediterranean Nursery Systems for Forest Reproductive Material Procurement to Adapt to the Effects of Climate Change, has been organised to investigate the issue. While the TF title may be somewhat unwieldy, the TF’s role is clear: to provide the basic scientific information needed to maintain diversity in the forest nursery production chain; to apply serious and scrupulous certification criteria; and to support the adaptation of future forests to environmental changes.
At this time, “there is an increasing risk of irreversible losses of many endemic forest tree species/populations or of unique marginal/peripheral ecotypes harbored in biodiversity hotspot regions due to climate change effects,” said Dr. Giovanbattista de Dato, of Italy’s Council for Agricultural Research and Economics (CREA) and Coordinator of the Task Force.
The Task Force is focusing on how to improve the quality and suitability of the forest reproductive material (FRM) used in forest plantings, how to preserve high levels of genetic diversity in the produced FRM and how to avoid extensive losses in forests caused by using FRM that is maladapted or has low genetic variation; parameters that are especially important for the resilience and sustainability of forests in the face of climate change.
One of the major challenges, according to Dr. Paraskevi Alizoti, of the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, and Deputy Coordinator of the Task Force, is that nurseries often gravitate toward fast-growing seedlings. While this may facilitate a quick turnover, it results in culling seedlings that, due to their genetic makeup, may be slow growth starters but tend to grow faster later in the course of their development, or bear other traits of adaptive significance that would assist in adaptation and survival in an environment that, due to climate change, is continuously changing.