Parched Canadian summer spurs researchers to seek out tree seedlings with hardier DNA

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A search is underway at UBC for tree seedlings with the DNA to thrive under rapidly changing conditions, with the aim of better preparing B.C.’s forests to withstand climate change.

B.C. experienced the driest summer on record this year, and experts say loose soil and brittle root systems may have contributed to the tree wreckage throughout the province during the late-August windstorm.

But the drought is just one of many recent and unusual events tied to climate change that is challenging the health of our forests, said Sally Aitken, professor in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at UBC.

Aitken said researchers have recently witnessed a resurgence in pests, drought dieback and other tree diseases. “As climate changes, we see a mismatch developing between the local populations of trees and the new climates that they’re experiencing,” she said. “To adapt, trees have to die, and other trees have to survive…For a tree that lives for 100 or 200 years, it’s a very rapid rate of change per generation.”

In B.C., roughly 250 million trees are planted per year. While reforestation efforts have traditionally planted local seeds, Aitken said officials are now re-evaluating that strategy.

The UBC AdapTree project is studying the tree genomes of species from California through to Yukon in an effort to match DNA sequences with the performance of seedlings and their drought-stress, cold-stress and heat-stress tolerance.

“We don’t have to generate new strains of trees. We can look to other geographic areas for seed sources,” said Aitken.

Aitken said it’s important to incorporate genetic variation and diversity in our forests, because it’s nearly impossible to predict what changes will come in the future.

Read full, original post: UBC Forestry seeking trees with DNA to survive climate change

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