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Adaptive genetic diversity of trees for forest conservation in a future climate: a case study on Norway spruce in Austria

Abstract

Genetic resources of forest trees are considered as a key factor for the persistence of forest ecosystems because the ability of tree species to survive under changing climate depends strongly on their intraspecific variation in climate response. Therefore, utilizing available genetic variation in climate response and planting alternative provenances suitable for future climatic conditions is considered as an important adaptation measure for forestry. On the other hand, the distribution of adaptive genetic diversity of many tree species is still unknown and the predicted shift of ecological zones and species’ distribution may threaten forest genetic resources that are important for adaptation. Here, we use Norway spruce in Austria as a case study to demonstrate the genetic variation in climate response and to analyse the existing network of genetic conservation units for its effectiveness to safeguard the hotspots of adaptive and neutral genetic diversity of this species. An analysis of the climate response of 480 provenances, clustered into 9 groups of climatically similar provenances, revealed high variation among provenance groups. The most productive and promising provenance clusters for future climates originate from three regions that today depict the warmest and driest areas of the natural spruce distribution in Austria. Gap analysis of the Austrian genetic conservation units in the EUFGIS Portal suggests adequate coverage of the genetic hotspots in southern parts of Austria, but not in eastern and northern Austria. Therefore conservation measures and sustainable utilization of the valuable genetic resources in these regions need to be expanded to cover their high adaptive genetic variation and local adaptation to a warmer climate. The study shows that current conservation efforts need to be evaluated for their effectiveness to protect genetic resources that are important for the survival of trees in a future climate.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Ferdinand Müller and Alfred Bernhard—former colleagues of the BFW—who established the existing network of genetic conservation forests in Austria, and to Hans Herz, Peter Zwerger, Hans Hauer, Karl Schweinzer and Thomas Thalmayr (all BFW) for maintaining the network and the national database. We also thank the various forest owners in Austria for supporting the national genetic conservation network. Financial support for this work was provided by the European Commission under Council 720 Regulation (EC) No 870/2004 (EUFGIS action, Contract No AGRI-2006-0261). Also, we are grateful to two anonymous referees who provided helpful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Silvio Schueler.

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Schueler, S., Kapeller, S., Konrad, H. et al. Adaptive genetic diversity of trees for forest conservation in a future climate: a case study on Norway spruce in Austria. Biodivers Conserv 22, 1151–1166 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-012-0313-3

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Keywords

  • Forest genetic resources
  • Climate response
  • Intraspecific variation
  • Adaptation
  • Picea abies
  • Genetic variation