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Information on marginal and peripheral tree populations to be transferred to EUFORGEN

Published: 29/03/2017
Betula pendula population at the ancient volcano of Caldara di Manziana, Italy. Photo: F. Ducci / EUFORGEN

All living species have a range of environmental conditions in which they can survive. These conditions set the limits of the distribution range of the species. Marginal or peripheral (MaP) populations are at the edges of their species distribution ranges, as a result of which they may have unusual genetic characteristics that enable them to survive in these challenging environments. For forest trees, these traits make MaP populations useful in silvicultural activities, to develop strategies for climate-change adaptation and mitigation.

However, climate change itself is already affecting environmental conditions, changing species distributions and increasing the vulnerability of MaP populations. In fact, the effects of climate change are likely to be stronger and more rapid in marginal environments than elsewhere, which makes it crucial to protect MaP populations and their forest genetic resources before it is too late.

By definition, MaP populations have adapted to more extreme conditions than populations at the centre of the species’ range, but there has been little understanding of the crucial mechanisms that govern the resilience of MaP populations, including the role of local adaptation, demography, population dynamics and migration.

A COST Action (FP1202 — MaP-FGR) led by CREA Forestry Research Centre (Arezzo, Italy) was initiated to get a better understanding of those mechanisms and to help prioritize them for forest management and decision-making. The Action brought together a wide range of multidisciplinary experts and stakeholders to identify and close research gaps, strengthen collaboration across Europe, and produce guidelines and tools for forest managers and decision-makers, with researchers from 38 European and neighbouring countries.

Starting with a simple geographical definition of marginality in tree populations, the participants built a preliminary understanding of the different factors — such as genetics, ecology, human activity and geography — that can affect marginality in different ways in different places. The Action also developed indices of marginality and maps for several target species.

One of the key conclusions to surface was that because marginal populations can emerge as a result of different processes, not all MaP tree populations hold the same value for adapting forests to climate change. Some may have little value for conservation and use. Others, particularly those in southern Europe, result from long-term evolutionary and adaptive processes and their FGR may contain genetic combinations of great value for climate-change mitigation and adaptation.

Going forward, the maps of MaP populations for 24 species created by the COST Action will be incorporated into EUFORGEN repository, thereby improving the understanding of an important topic in forest genetic conservation.

The findings were also discussed at a final conference in September 2016 which was co-sponsored by EUFORGEN.

You can read more about the action and its outcomes on the MaP-FGR website