Conserving desirable sources

Despite all our efforts, trees and forests continue to decrease in numbers and extent. This inevitably means that genetic variation (which is responsible for a large part of the biological diversity (biodiversity) we see around us) is gradually diminishing (sometimes referred to as genetic erosion). In some cases it is lost forever as species become extinct, provenances are lost, and ecosystems are degraded. As this variation is the essential base for genetic improvement, opportunities to produce trees and forests that provide goods and services that we need now (or may need in the future) are diminishing.

It is therefore essential that we take steps to conserve (protect) forest genetic resources (which includes their reproductive material), putting priority on those resources we know to be most threatened or endangered. In many cases we do not know what those resources are, and it is for this reason that continued plant exploration and taxonomic studies are so important.

SeeFinding out more - Selected references - Conservationfor sources of information on endangered (threatened) species.

Once resources have been identified that are considered valuable and/or threatened or endangered, active conservation can take two forms:

  • In situ conservation aims to conserve genetic variation where it originated in natural stands within the range of the species or ecosystem. Areas that are sufficiently large to naturally regenerate themselves adequately will be demarcated and managed in such a way as to protect them from further degradation, rehabilitating the forest to its original state where necessary. This will inevitably require provision of some form of immediate benefits, as well as the long-term genetic benefit, and ensuring participation of local communities in helping to protect and benefit from the forest. Forest harvesting and logging carried out as an integral component of forest management, in an environmentally sensitive manner (e.g. in line with Model Code on Forest Harvesting Practice published by FAO) is compatible with and contributes to maintaining biological diversity (see website: There are different classes of protected area defined by forestry and conservation organisations, depending on their legal status and objectives of management. FAO, IPGRI and DFSC have recently published a technical guide on in situ conservation: Forest Genetic resources conservation and management: in managed natural forests and protected areas (in situ).

  • Ex situ conservation aims to conserve genetic variation outside the natural range of the species, as individual planted trees, in clone banks, in seed stands or as reproductive material of different types that are conserved in long-term storage facilities. Although this can be very effective, the amount of genetic variation conserved is limited and it is costly. It therefore needs to be considered as a complement to in situ conservation. New biotechnological methods have the potential for making it easier to conserve larger amounts of genetic variation in this way. Commercial forest plantations as well as tree planting on farms - whose main objective is to produce some form of immediate product or service - can always play a role in conservation of genetic variability, provided any selection and breeding does not reduce variability too much, and appropriate management procedures are properly followed.

See alsoRegulating and applying standards.
last updated:  Wednesday, April 18, 2007