Genetic consequences of in situ and ex situ conservation of forest trees

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  • To counteract loss of genetic diversity crucial for current and future tree improvement, tree breeders have conserved forest genetic resources in situ in their natural ecosystems in protected areas or ex situ in plantations, seed orchards, and breeding arboreta. This article reviews the genetic consequences of these two conservation methods in terms of single-locus and multilocus population structure from electrophoretic studies of natural forests and breeding populations. Although natural forest populations have maintained high level of genetic diversity and exhibited low level of population differentiation, loss of genetic diversity would occur during the entire conservation process, from population establishment to management of breeding and production populations. Since forest trees are still at their earliest stage of domestication in Canada, loss of genetic diversity comes primarily from the initial sampling process during population establishment. We discuss the optimal sampling strategy during population establishment to conserve common and widespread alleles, common and localized alleles, rare and widespread alleles, and rare and localized alleles. We also discuss three methods for studying the multilocus structure of forest trees and show how such information would be useful for conserving co-adapted gene complexes. We conclude that being small and maintained in controlled environments, ex situ conserved populations would retain less genetic diversity than in situ conserved forest populations. While ex situ conservation is operationally convenient for the short-term gains in tree improvement, we believe in situ conservation is essential for renewing the genetic diversity to meet the changing environments of an uncertain future.

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    Article (Published)
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    © 1992 R.-C. Yang et al. This version of this article is open access and can be downloaded and shared. The original author(s) and source must be cited.
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  • Citation for previous publication
    • Yang, R.-C., & Yeh, F.C. (1992). Genetic consequences of in situ and ex situ conservation of forest trees. Forestry Chronicle, 68(6), 720-729.
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