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Molecular ecophysiology as a tool for the selection of highly stress-resistant poplar species for multipurpose forests

ESTABLISH addresses the problem of land recultivation under arid climatic conditions - the affects of reafforestation on soil erosion and salinity. To enable economically feasible afforestation, and to recreate favourable microclimatic conditions for wood production under strained environments, stress tolerant tree species will be identified from the genus Populus. New plantations will be sown and existing plantations of Quercus and Eucalyptus extended. The tools developed by ESTABLISH will be used for conventional and biotechnological breeding programmes. The results of this project will generate criteria to help with the selection of trees for restoration and protection of multi-purpose forests. Such criteria are prerequisites for efficient and sustainable management strategies.

The objective of this proposal is to combine biotechnological, molecular and ecophysiological methods to provide fundamental knowledge about salinity and drought-resistance in trees.
The main scientific and technological objectives are:
1) to identify morphological, physiological and molecular markers for drought and salt resistance in ecotypes of stress-adapted tree species
2) to improve drought stress resistance by exploiting physiological and morphological traits, and providing molecular markers for conventional or biotechnological breeding programmes
3) to establish pilot afforestations and determine plant performance to provide input data for modelling
4) to provide genotypes for plantations in unfavourable climates.
For this purpose, the project will combine the expertise of nine partners and include collaboration with National Forest Authorities. The consortium will focus its efforts on the genus Populus, which is known for its wide stress tolerance and proliferation worldwide. Within this genus, the species Populus euphratica and P. alba have been chosen because their natural occurrence covers the widest range of conditions relevant to this project (i.e. salinity, semi-arid climate, soil erosion). It is expected that these species will be useful pioneers to restore degraded, eroding soils, and act as 'protection plantations' against landslides, while in arid or semi-arid climatic conditions they will prevent desertification. Existing field plots and trials are available and pilot plantations interspersed with other species (multi-purpose-forests) will be installed during this project.

Progress to Date
The project consists of three main parts, which in combination contribute to a common goal. One part is the propagation and practical testing of tree species and clones in the field. The second part advances knowledge about the basic mechanisms of drought and salt tolerance by ecophysiological studies. The third exploits this material and knowledge to produce test systems for molecular markers with biotechnological methods, as well as creating a database of the findings.

Morphological markers: Long-term salt treatments induced leaf succulence in P. euphratica. It was observed that, under natural conditions, the roots of P. euphratica are mycorrhizal, and that both the roots and mycorrhizas can tolerate high levels of salt.
Physiological markers: With respect to enzymes in the antioxidative system, it was shown that, during the short-term response of P. euphratica to salt stress, the activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD) was specifically increased in the roots.
Molecular markers: The transgenic Populus tremula boiling stable protein and wild type P. euphratica performed better under salt stress than wild type P. tremula.
Eleven libraries, enriched for stress relevant genes, were synthesised during the reporting period. One third of the 12 808 sequences yielded may encode 'tree specific' genes and approximately half of the sequences represent novel Populus sequences.
High-density filters containing the complete set of expressed sequence tags (ESTs) from the available two cambium libraries were produced. Hybridisation conditions using RNA from the cambium of P. euphratica have been established.
The genetic variability of P. alba genotypes was determined using RAPD and SSR markers. Five RAPD fragments were cloned and two sequences to be transformed in SCAR markers were obtained.


Scientist responsible for the project

Buesgenweg 2
37077 Goettingen
Germany - DE

Phone: +49 551 393480/3482
Fax: +49 551 392705


Project ID QLRT-1999-31377
Organisation Forstbotanisches Institut
Area 5.3.1
Start date 01 January 2001
Duration (months) 36
Total cost 2 415 563 €
Total EC contribution   2 030 277 €
Status Completed
Web address of the project

The partners

  • University of Wales - School of Agricultural and Forest Sciences, United Kingdom (The) - GB

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