Prospects for evolution in European tree breeding

Genetically improved forest reproductive materials are now widely accessible in many European countries due to decades of continuous breeding efforts. Tree breeding does not only contribute to higher-value end products but allows an increase in the rate of carbon capture and sequestration, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The usefulness of breeding programmes depends on (i) the relevance of the set of selected traits and their relative weights (growth, drought tolerance, phenology, etc.); (ii) the explicit management of targeted and “neutral” diversity; (iii) the genetic gain achieved; and (iv) the efficiency of transferring diversity and gain to the plantation. Several biological factors limit both operational breeding and mass reproduction.

To fully realise the potential of tree breeding, the introduction of new technologies and concepts is pivotal for overcoming these constraints. We reviewed several European breeding programmes, examining their current status and factors that are likely to influence tree breeding in the coming decades. The synthesis was based on case studies developed for the B4EST project, which focused on eight economically important tree species with breeding histories and intensities ranging from low-input breeding (stone pine, Douglas-fir and ash) to more complex programmes (eucalyptus, maritime pine, Norway spruce, poplar, and Scots pine).

Fugeray-Scarbel A, Bouffier L, Lemarié S, Sánchez L, Alia R, Biselli C, Buiteveld J, Carra A, Cattivelli L, Dowkiw A, Fontes L, Fricano A, Gion J-M, Grima-Pettenati J, Helmersson A, Lario F, Leal L, Mutke S, Nervo G, Persson T, Rosso L, Smulders MJM, Steffenrem A, Vietto L, Haapanen M (2024). Prospects for evolution in European tree breeding. iForest 17: 45-58. – https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor4544-017