Foresttrac - Description
Concept of the Project
Nearly 40% of Europe and North America is covered by forests, which provide important ecosystem services, biomass and wood resources (FA0, 2006). Their persistence is challenged today by the increasing evidence of the ongoing climate change occurring at a much faster rate than during the past natural climatic oscillations (Solomon et al., 2007). The predicted responses of forest trees can be summarized in three different scenarios: persistence through migration in a more suitable environment, persistence through local adaptation, and extirpation (Aitken et al., 2008).
There is only anecdotal evidence that trees may have inherent capacities to enhance local adaptation and/or migration to the extent that they may be able to cope with the predicted changes (Savolainen et al., 2007; Kremer, 2007). However the extent of the evolutionary change that these long-lived species may be able to undergo remains an open field of research and requires an interdisciplinary approach combining genetics ecology, genomics and evolution.
The ongoing network of excellence EVOLTREE (of which all EU FoResTTraC partners are members) has built along this interdisciplinary approach and the current project is an attempt to extend its work in cooperation with North American initiatives.
The level of diversity in natural populations is an important source of evolutionary change and has for the time being been very fragmentarily documented (Gonzalez-Martinez et al., 2006). Because traits that contribute to adaptation are complex, whole genome exploration is needed to locate the relevant gene variation that contributes to adaptation. Genome exploration is at its very embryonic stage in long lived tree species, with the exception of the poplar. This is why genomics has received wide attention in this project, as it is also far behind the other three disciplines.
FoResTTraC will bring together the ongoing efforts of European and North American teams by focusing their attention to the most ecologically and economically important forest tree families on the two continents: Salicaceae, Fagaceae and Pinaceae.
FoResTTraC will facilitate and advance the preparation of future transcontinental research projects in different ways:
1. By drawing up an overview of existing research capacities and ongoing activities on the two continents (WP1).
2. By identifying key research avenues related to the basic evolutionary mechanisms that will allow trees to respond to climate change (WP2).
3. By upgrading and connecting existing physical and virtual resources over the two continents (WP4).
4. By constructing a roadmap of future transcontinental research priorities and projects (WP3).
It is made clear that this project will not address the use of forest plantations and forestry in general to increase carbon sequestration and mitigate climate change. Genomics may indeed enhance genetic improvement of species, populations or genotypes thatare more efficient in carbon sequestration. But the use of genomics targeted towards carbon sequestration, eg biomass production, is on the board of Priority 2 within FP7, and ongoing FP7 projects (as for example ENERGYPOPLAR) are already progressing on this topic.
The scientific disciplines that are supporting these activities are: quantitative selection, breeding and genomics. As was recommended by the call for proposals, this coordination and supporting action focuses on how "forest genomics can likely contribute to the adaptation of forests to these changes". By adaptation of forests it is meant evolutionary processes, including genetic and ecological mechanisms that will help tree populations to cope with the ongoing environmental changes.
In this project we are therefore concentrating on these inherent adaptive processes and the scientific disciplines concerned are: ecology, evolution and genomics.