Bioversity International, Rome, 2015
The diversity of forests, at the level of species and at the level of genetic diversity within
species, is an important resource for Europe. Over the past several decades European
countries have made considerable efforts to conserve the genetic diversity of tree species.
According to the EUFGIS portal1, there are more than 3200 genetic conservation units which
harbour more than 4000 populations of about 100 tree species. An earlier analysis of the
EUFGIS information revealed significant gaps in the conservation efforts in terms of the
species covered and the geographical distribution of the units within the species’ ranges.
Subsequently, the EUFORGEN Steering Committee established a working group to develop
the pan-European genetic conservation strategy for forest trees. The process followed by the
working group and its results are presented in this report.
For each pilot tree species, the strategy calls for a core network of dynamic conservation units.
These units are not interconnected by geneflow, but together capture the current genetic
diversity across the European continent. In addition, the working group recommends: that
countries upload all outstanding data to the EUFGIS database; that progress be monitored;
that resources be allocated to the EUFGIS database; that a strategy to mitigate the negative
effects of climate change on forest genetic resources be developed; and that EUFORGEN
continues operating through working groups.
The working group decided to focus its attention on the conservation of adaptive genetic diversity,
while recognising that neutral genetic diversity is also important. The working group
selected 14 pilot tree species representing four categories, depending on their geographical
distribution (wide vs restricted) and their ecology (stand-forming vs scattered). The group
also created a map of eight environmental zones by amalgamating some of the zones of an
earlier published environmental classification for Europe. It then sought to identify at least
one conservation unit per country for each environmental zone in that country, using a set of
criteria to determine the most appropriate choice of unit.
This process resulted in the identification of 1,836 dynamic conservation units, covering a total
area of 205,803 ha and encompassing 2,173 tree populations. Five economically important
tree species are represented by more than 200 units each, which together make up 80% of all
conservation units. Other species are poorly represented.
Genetic conservation status
Available information on genetic diversity is variable across tree species. Distribution maps
are available for all of the widely occurring species and for five less widely occurring species.
For the remaining four pilot species, only rough qualitative assessments of diversity could be
made using the broad genetic structure at a continental scale. Overall, the group noted a lack
of information on genetic diversity within the conservation units, with uncertainty about
which populations have been sampled by earlier studies. On-going projects to link various
databases should make this kind of information more complete and accessible in the future.
Gaps in conservation efforts
To identify gaps in existing conservation efforts, the group compared species distribution
maps in each environmental zone in each country with the location of the conservation
units. Any incidence of a species with no unit in an appropriate environmental zone in that
country was recorded as a gap, and it was also noted when there was an information gap
in the EUFGIS database.
Some countries do not yet have any genetic conservation units that meet the minimum
requirements agreed for these units. Others have units but have provided either no data
or only partial data to EUFGIS. Therefore, the report focuses on countries where there are
no conservation units for a particular species in a particular environmental zone, as these
areas can be considered a high priority for establishing new conservation units.
Genetic Conservation Strategy
The working group’s approach, having been tested with 14 pilot species, can be applied
to all tree species in Europe. The implementation of the strategy remains the responsibility
of each country, which can use the results of this report for planning and carrying
out their conservation efforts. The EUFORGEN Steering Committee will promote the
implementation of the strategy and monitor progress in this regard.
A particular concern is the effects of climate change on forests and the expected effects
on long-lived tree species are likely to be variable, complex and difficult to predict. As a
result, efforts should focus on the genetic conservation of the most vulnerable tree populations
and species, for example those near the edge of their environmental limits, which
often harbour high genetic diversity. Monitoring such populations should help to reveal
key changes in a timely fashion, and management may then be needed to mitigate the
effects of climate change.
Monitoring progress in the overall implementation of the strategy will also be necessary
to ensure that it can be revised based on the progress made and future requirements.