Pioneering a new breed of forests
Canada's forest lands are an important part of our heritage. Not only do our forests contribute to the country’s image worldwide, they are also a cornerstone of our economy. With close to one million Canadians directly or indirectly employed within the forest sector, it is the largest single contributor to employment. The Canadian Forest Service (CFS) is responsible for preserving the biodiversity of Canada's forests, but it also recognizes the contribution of Canada’s forests to the livelihood of Canadians. Although demand for forest products is expected to increase, a worldwide net loss of forest area has occurred over the last decades. The CFS is striving to find solutions to these challenges to alleviate some of the pressure being placed on our forest resource.
I am a team leader of an Atlantic Forestry Centre (CFS) project that is responsible for developing the somatic embryogenesis (SE) technique for commercially important conifer species. SE allows an unlimited number of genetically identical tree embryos to be propagated from a single seed. Why develop somatic embryogenesis? SE is the key technology for implementing multi-varietal forestry (MVF), which may be defined as plantation forestry using tested tree varieties—any clones or products of breeding given separate names. MVF offers much greater genetic improvement than is possible through any conventional tree breeding method; it is thus a powerful tool for increasing forest productivity using native genes, rather than introducing foreign genes. MVF is a rapid and flexible method to introduce tested tree varieties well suited to changing environmental conditions and changing product goals; it gives us the ability to carefully manage the genetic diversity of trees in plantation forestry.
Multi-varietal forests will not replace natural forests. Their purpose is to improve forest productivity for commercial plantations only. By doing so, they may relieve the pressure on our natural forests, preventing future commercial exploitation. Multi-varietal forests will enhance the economic value of the forestry sector. The SE technique is relatively new for forest tree species—its development and implementation are at an early stage for some species, but it is sufficiently refined for the implementation of most spruce species. I am excited about being involved in the pioneering stage of this technology, which is expected to have a major effect on tree breeding and plantation forestry. Because of this effort to bridge the gap between biotechnology and commercial applications, Canada will be able to lessen the strain placed on a natural resource, while supporting the forest sector's contribution to the economy.
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