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Introduced Trees -Conserving The Genetic Resource



An initiative by Forest research addresses an important need to conserve the genetic variation contained in introduced tree species. According to tree improvement specialist, Gary Vincent, "New Zealand plantations are entirely dependent on exotic species. Many different species have been growing here for several generations and have become well adapted to our conditions. It is in the national interest that these be protected and further developed."

In both horticulture and agriculture, genetic improvement of commercial species has been going on in some form for hundreds of years but there is increasing awareness of the need to conserve the rich genetic variation inherent in original or "natural" populations. Foresters have learned from the experience of other industries and recognise the need for a conservation initiative. Radiata pine is being domesticated and adapted by breeding to suit the current demand for specific products, so it is necessary to protect raw genetic material for future generations to utilise in tree breeding, as some commercial uses could well be different from those today.

Prior to 1987, the NZ Forest Service actively developed and maintained genetic resources of many species for the public good, but this activity ceased when the organisation was disbanded. Forest Research is now looking to revive a system of maintaining pockets of gene conservation stands both on company land and privately owned blocks. "Over the past two years, through the Public Good Science Fund, we have initiated the development of a National Genetic Resources Programme. The objective of this is to provide an adequate, effective and active, long term management programme for the genetic resources of Radiata pine and other introduced forest tree species in New Zealand."

In California, native strands of Radiata pine are increasingly under threat from urbanisation and disease. As the result of a joint New Zealand and Australian seed collection in California in 1978, the "original" populations of Radiata pine introduced to New Zealand are broadly based and in practical terms, contain most genetic variation that is available. However, stands planted from this collection are now approaching the normal time of logging and genetic resources of other introduced species are under threat. As Vincent explains, "With the sale of state plantations and continued changes in forest ownership, these genetic resources of other species are being logged and are often replaced with improved Radiata pine."

Although Radiata pine is likely to remain the preferred species for plantation forestry in the foreseeable future, most forest owners recognise the need to keep their options open. Vincent explains that remnant populations of introduced tree species scattered throughout the country represent an important genetic resource for potential future developments. "Some of these species now form genetic resources that are better suited to local conditions than imported seeds. They are also free of many pests and diseases causing problems overseas." In other words, by drawing on existing local populations of adapted species, and by upgrading others with new "blood", tree growers looking for alternative options in the future would not have to start from scratch.

For more information contact: Gerry Vincent, Forest Research

Phone: 07 343 5899; Facsimile: 07 343 5379 or email-



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