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Improving fraxinux (ash) productivity for European needs by testing, selection propagation and promotion of improved genetic resources

Genetic resources of Ash (Fraxinus) will be characterised by recording existing provenance, progeny and population tests and a new provenance trial of material from the European natural range will be established in six countries. Using previously developed polymorphic microsatellites and DNA markers, an estimate of Fraxinus' genetic diversity will be made. Gene flow estimates will be evaluated via paternity analysis in pure and hybrid strands, and the best populations and provenances will be identified to aid certification. Selected individuals and tested progeny will be propagated vegetatively. Physiological, biochemical and physical treatments will be optimised that positively affect micropropagation, flower induction and propagation by cuttings, giving high quality plants and allowing SMEs to perform large-scale cloning/variety testing and deployment to farmers/foresters.

The objectives of this project are:
1) to characterise the genetic diversity and genetic structure in Fraxinus populations on a regional and European scale by conventional and molecular means, and to use this data to provide guidelines for using genetic resources of Fraxinus in practical forestry and in tree improvement programmes. The data will also assist in certification of stocks and in decision-making concerning the conservation of Fraxinus genetic resources
2) to provide technical methods to accelerate the utilisation of scarce selections by vegetative propagation and induced flowering
3) to identify and use the most effective means of exploiting and deploying the genetic potential of Fraxinus by continuous communication of progress and results with all potential end users of the genetic resource.

Progress to Date
Measurements of existing ash provenance trials have been made. Seeds of diverse ash provenances have been collected, stratified and germinated and will be used for planting a European ash provenance trial.
In vitro methods have been developed to micropropagate selected mature ash trees, and the technology and plant material has been transferred successfully to commercial companies for bulking up plant material in preparation for field trials.
A consultation panel of end users has been identified, and discussions took place about the market potential for ash timber, financing methods for plantation forestry, as well as on other aspects related to ash utilisation and improvement.

European users of ash include nurseries, landowners foresters/farmers, local communities, craft workers, furniture makers, sawmills, breeders conservationists and environmental groups. All will benefit from the production of improved genetic resources of ash.
The RAP project found significant differences for important characters (height growth, resistance to frost, and high quality stems) between different sources of ash. This provides guidance for agencies and nurseries to recommend some and avoid other seed sources when high quality is desired in the final crop.
The genetic effects on quality characters are strong. This means that significant benefits can be obtained by selecting and breeding trees for those characters which are under strong genetic control.
The influence of the environment (site) has a very strong effect on the expression of the important genetic characteristics. This knowledge underlines the great importance for foresters/farmers to select appropriate soils/sites to achieve the best performances from ash.
The results cited above support the case that superior trees selected from wild populations or provenance trials are well adapted to their environment for the traits measured and that the vegetative propagation of such superior trees is a productive approach for developing stocks of ash with improved productivity and quality characteristics.
Vegetative propagation of selected and mature ash trees is viable at the commercial scale to develop improved polyclonal varieties after field testing. This will offer significant benefit to those who will plant superior material for different functional uses in the forest. Furthermore the propagation methods can be commercialised in laboratories and by nursery producers who wish to use cuttings for propagation .
The benefits of molecular studies have been to identify and characterise different pure sources of ash (F.excelsior) as well as hybrid populations of F. excelsior with F. angustifolia. This will inform regulating authorities and seed collectors and ensure greater purity of the genetic resources which will benefit all users as well as practising conservationists.
Availability of improved ash will lower the EU dependence on imported ash from the USA and of tropical hardwoods in general.
Increased use of hardwoods can create important resources for future infrastructural and social development. Knowledge on the genetic background of Fraxinus populations will help to sustain existing forests by modulation of management practises to include more broadleaved species. Environmental benefits of hardwood forests are increased ecological complexity, enhanced biodiversity, fixation of CO2 purification of groundwater resources, and less forest fires.
Consultations with ash stakeholders have indicated an acceptance of the potential of improved ash stocks provided it is well demonstrated and verified. This attitude will encourage and benefit the tree breeders and tree producers to proceed with programmes an genetic improvement with the view to producing ash genetic resources which are well adapted to the multifunctional roles in sustainable 'close to nature' silviculture.


Scientist responsible for the project

Malahide Road
Dublin 17 Dublin
Ireland - IE

Phone: +353 1 8460644
Fax: +353 1 8460524


Project ID QLRT-2000-00631
Organisation Teagasc, Kinsealy Research Centre
Area 5.3.1
Start date 01 October 2001
Duration (months) 48
Total cost 3 415 943 €
Total EC contribution   1 996 369 €
Status Completed
Web address of the project

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