With their regular annual meetings and with the frequent contacts among scientists from different European countries, the five species-oriented European Forest Genetic Resources Programme (EUFORGEN) Networks provide a unique opportunity for the identification of research needs and for planning and developing joint project proposals. As a result, Network members work together as partners in different research projects, discuss the application and facilitate broad dissemination of results. EUFORGEN Networks are composed of members officially nominated by the participating countries, who act as national focal points for the species concerned. They involve more than thirty European countries, and therefore represent a significantly wider eco-geographic coverage than most research projects. At the technical level, EUFORGEN Networks endeavour to develop collaborative activities that complement the approach taken in individual research projects, for example linking in situ and ex situ conservation. In fact, during the last few years there has been an intense research activity on forest genetic diversity in Europe, with a particular attention to broadleaves. Most projects in this area have been financially supported by the European Commission.
Two most successful examples include EUROPOP - the recently completed project on Genetic Diversity in River Populations of European Black Poplar, coordinated by Alterra Green World Research, the Netherlands, and the Concerted Action for the Evaluation of Genetic Resources of Cork Oak, lead by Estacao Florestal Nacional, Portugal. EUROPOP, originally initiated by members of the EUFORGEN black poplar (Populus nigra) Network, developed a set of technical recommendations that will be on the agenda of the forthcoming EUFORGEN black poplar Network meeting in October 2001. Their discussion and later adoption will contribute to accomplishing the main objective of the Network - to facilitate the implementation of practical gene conservation measures in Europes riparian ecosystems. The synergies between the EU-funded cork oak (Quercus suber) project and the corresponding EUFORGEN cork oak Network were recognized as essential for establishing coordinated provenance experiments in seven countries of the Mediterranean (Algeria, France, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and Tunisia) three years ago. The cork oak Network has also continued to play a role in exchanging information among countries after the completion of the EU project.
Conservation of Elm Genetic Resources is conducted in the framework of EC Regulation 1467/94 (Gen Res 78). The project aims at a better evaluation of the existing collections of European elms (Ulmus glabra, U. minor, U. laevis) and effective ex situ conservation measures. It involves partners in 9 countries that provide expertise on different aspects such as molecular markers, cryopreservation, entomology and pathology. The EU activities include the establishment of a European database, characterization of genetic diversity using molecular markers, identification of valuable clones, rationalization of existing collections, development of cryopreservation techniques, establishment of a core collection of genetic materials and raising public awareness. In particular, the project has contributed to the formulation of the ex situ conservation strategy for threatened Ulmus species in Europe. Action carried out within the framework of the EU project was complemented by an in situ conservation strategy adopted by the EUFORGEN Noble Hardwoods Network (which considers elm species to be highest conservation priority). The EUFORGEN recommendations and action emphasize the need for dynamic and integrated management of genetic resources in Europe to complement other action. The coordinator of the EU project from France attended all five EUFORGEN Network meetings held so far, ensuring a continuous flow of information between the two. Links between activities in the EU-member and non-member countries have also been created.
Research on the geographic variation of forest trees, supported by the EU-funded CYTOFOR project, is essential for gene conservation purposes and for tree improvement. The project has included a number of components, including phylogeographic studies, history (postglacial migration routes) investigations, hybridization between species, links between ecological and population genetic studies. The project took a multiple species approach, combining genetic data on 22 economically or ecologically important species of 7 different families. Nine countries were involved. Obvious applications of such research included certification of forest reproductive material, determination of origin of populations and priority setting for conservation measures. The tools included chloroplast DNA markers for phylogeographic studies. Distribution patterns of haplotypes appeared to be strongly related to the biology of the species or to the history of the populations. Sorbus torminalis showed no geographic structure whereas the patterns for Ulmus were comparable to those for Quercus, showing a clear geographic pattern in Europe (<http://www.pierroton.inra.fr/cytofor>). The results of the CYTOFOR project provide an essential input to the technical recommendations that are currently being developed by the EUFORGEN Noble Hardwoods Network. They target forest managers and agencies responsible for gene conservation in European countries.
The new EU CASCADE project (<http://soi.cnr.it/~chestnut/home.html>) focuses on evaluation of genetic diversity at adaptive traits and genetic markers in chestnut (Castanea sativa) in relation to evolutionary factors and human impact, and on the formulation of long-term conservation priorities. Twelve institutions from Greece, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden and UK participate in this project. The project covers different research issues and socio-economic aspects of gene conservation. A long-term gene conservation strategy for chestnut (Castanea) has been developed within the framework of the EUFORGEN Noble Hardwoods Network. The participating countries in EUFORGEN are the designated users of the results of the EU project, which will provide guidance for the further development and implementation of the strategy.
The objective of EU DYNABEECH (<http://www.biotheon.com/dynabeech>) is to assess the impact of forest management on ecological and genetic structures in European beech (Fagus sylvatica) by comparing intensively managed forest and virgin forests in four locations. Six partners from Austria, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands participate in the project.
The project OAKFLOW (<http://www.pierroton.inra.fr/oakflow>) is aimed at examining intra- and interspecific geneflow as a mechanism for promoting diversity in temperate white oaks (Quercus). There are 13 partners and a number of subcontractors, which also host Intensively Studied Plots. The objectives are to trace geneflow by pollen and seed, to evaluate ecological and genetic consequences of geneflow, and to evaluate impacts of geneflow on management rules. The management rules developed and particularly the data on neighborhood size that have been obtained are very relevant for the development of conservation guidelines prepared and disseminated through the EUFORGEN Social Broadleaves Network (temperate oaks and beech). In fact, the links between the EU project and the EUFORGEN Network were among the main items discussed at the fourth meeting of the Network, in Norway, in June 2001.
In addition to collaborating with the above EU-funded projects, a project was also initiated by EUFORGEN, supported by the Government of Luxembourg, on Genetic Resources of Broadleaved Forest Trees Species in Southeastern Europe. The EUFORGEN/Luxembourg project aims at further developing national strategies on the conservation and sustainable use of forest genetic resources in Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine. A complementary approach was chosen encompassing the in situ conservation of genetic diversity of native forests, and further development and use of technologies for ex situ conservation. The project placed strong emphasis on capacity building and the strengthening of links between the institutions and scientists involved, and between these and their counterparts in other European countries. The main objective of the current, second phase of the Project (2001-2004) is to create the conditions for the conservation and sustainable management of forest genetic resources in the participating countries. This will be achieved through complementary conservation and management of broadleaved forest genetic resources; addressing policy issues and developing proposals to help address the situation and support the development of the national programmes; and information management and public awareness. The project has strong links with four Networks of the EUFORGEN Programme and provides an opportunity for testing some of the tools that have been developed within their framework.
Finally, EUFORGEN meetings also offer the opportunity to draw attention to other projects in which Network members are not directly involved. For example, at the last Noble Hardwoods Network meeting (held in Ireland, May 2001), there was a presentation of a new project called Improving Fraxinus productivity for European needs by testing, selection, propagation of improved genetic resources (RAP), which addresses genetic diversity, breeding, sexual and vegetative reproduction and other important aspects of ash productivity.
The EUFORGEN Networks collaborate on research-related aspects with the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO), particularly its working groups on conservation, genetic resources and breeding. For instance, the Bibliographic database on gray literature in the area of forest genetic resources, was initiated as a joint effort.
The above examples illustrate the role of the EUFORGEN Programme for mobilizing funds for tasks carried out by the Networks, with the aim to promote and facilitate genetic conservation activities in Europe. There is further need to collect and integrate information from different sources (i.e. molecular markers, provenance experiments, historical sources and ecological data) for the formulation of effective genetic conservation strategies in the long term. This knowledge can only be generated and effectively used through the collaboration among all the relevant international and national research efforts.
Of course, dissemination of results is another important aspect. There are several projects currently active on research into forest genetic diversity and many results are available. An increasing number of countries are eligible to participate in the EU framework programmes and projects as a result of the European Integration process. In order to reach a wider audience of forest managers and other users in European countries, plans are underway to hold a conference in 2002 to share the results obtained by the different groups, with participants from the mentioned EU-funded projects, EUFORGEN Networks and other stakeholders.
FAO is a member of, and actively participates in, the Management and Steering Committees of the European Forest Genetic Resources Programme (EUFORGEN). Collaboration between FAO and IPGRI at the technical level is also close.