Genetics Matter: Researchers Examine Diversity Among Forest Tree Species at Risk

Ponderosa pines Many forest tree species and populations face serious threats to their long-term viability, most seriously from insect and disease infestation and the effects of climate change. To conserve the genetic foundation tree species need to survive and adapt in the face of these threats, forest management decisions must consider how genetic diversity is distributed across species’ ranges. An Eastern Threat Center cooperating scientist from North Carolina State University (NCSU) is leading range-wide genetic variation studies of three species: ponderosa pine, a species with isolated populations of special concern given their susceptibility to climate change, development, and bark beetles; and eastern hemlock and Carolina hemlock, which are being decimated by an exotic insect. Researchers have, for the first time, uncovered evolutionary groups within ponderosa pine that may have different responses to climate change, bark beetles, and other threats, and have described population-level genetic diversity in ponderosa pine. Study findings are informing several efforts: Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service National Forest System management and conservation activities in the western United States, a U.S. Geological Survey study that predicts current and Ice Age climate niche (habitat distribution) models for ponderosa pine evolutionary groups, and an application of the characterization of genetic diversity and structure of eastern hemlock species to ensure that seed collections by NCSU’s Camcore conservation cooperative adequately sample the species’ genetic variation. Researchers are currently revising a genetic diversity study of Carolina hemlock, which exists in only a small number of isolated populations.

Pictured: Researchers have discovered evolutionary groups within ponderosa pine that may have different responses to climate change, bark beetles, and other threats. Photo by Kevin Potter, North Carolina State University.


Shinneman, Douglas J.; Means, Robert E.; Potter, Kevin M.; Hipkins, Valerie D.; Chiang, Tzen-Yuh 2016. Exploring climate niches of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex Lawson) haplotypes in the western United States: implications for evolutionary history and conservation. PLOS ONE, Vol. 11(3): e0151811.

Potter, Kevin M.; Hipkins, Valerie D.; Mahalovich, Mary F.; Means, Robert E. 2015. Nuclear genetic variation across the range of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa): Phylogeographic, taxonomic and conservation implications. Tree Genetics & Genomes (2015) 11:38. 23 p.

Forest Service Partners/Collaborators:
Forest Health Protection; National Forest System; Southern Research Station (Southern Institute of Forest Genetics)

External Partners/Collaborators: North Carolina State University; Bureau of Land Management; United States Geological Survey

Contact: Kevin Potter

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