Kuva: (C) Metla/Kalle Kuvaaja




Genetic diversity ensures the success of species in environments that are highly variable and subject to change. Ultimately, the genetic diversity of trees forms the basis of forestry and related forest industries. It is therefore vital that genetic resources be conserved, maintained and used in a sustainable manner to ensure the preservation of genetic diversity for future needs. Indeed, man, as steward of the earth, has an ethical responsibility to preserve species and safeguard genetic diversity for future generations.

The management of genetic diversity has been given high priority in Finland. A National Plant Genetic Resources Programme, covering plant genetic resources in agriculture, horticulture and forestry, was launched by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to promote the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources.* The implementation of the programme for agriculture and forestry is monitored by an advisory board, which acts as a link between various ministries, participates in the preparation of legislation concerning plant genetic resources and deals with Nordic and international issues related to plant genetic resources. The Finnish Forest Research Institute, which is responsible for all forest tree breeding in Finland, is the body responsible for the conservation of forest genetic resources.

Trees do not recognise national borders. For the good management, use and conservation of genetic resources, efficient international cooperation is required at the global, European and Nordic levels. There are several international agreements and programmes dealing with the management of genetic resources, the most important for Finland being:

Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD

The Convention on Biological Diversity was set up under the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It aims at conserving the biodiversity and sustainable use of biological resources. Finland signed the Convention in 1994.


Resolution 2 of the first Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, held in Strasbourg in 1990, obliges the signatory states to conserve their own forest genetic resources. This led to the establishment of the European Forest Genetic Resources Programme (EUFORGEN), which was adopted by the second Ministerial Confe rence on the Protection of Forests in Europe held in Helsinki in 1993. Activities related to EUFORGEN were initiated in 1994 and a total of 31 European countries, including Finland, are involved in the programme today.

Nordic cooperation

In 2000, the Nordic Council of Ministers decided to appoint a Nordic Genetic Resource Council, the purpose of which was to act as an advisory body to the Council of Ministers in matters concerning the genetic resources of forest trees. The Nordic Genetic Resource Council cooperates closely with the gene banks and organisations responsible
for the conservation of forest genetic resources throughout the Nordic region. These organisations include the Nordic Council for Forest Reproductive Material (NSFP) and the Nordic Forest Research Cooperation Committee (SNS). Within the Nordic Network for Forest Gene Conservation, which is subordinate to the Nordic Council for Forest Reproductive Material, national experts exchange ideas and experiences related to the practical management of genetic resources.

The aim of genetic conservation is
to secure the adaptability of populations and species
in a changing environment by maintaining
a sufficient level of genetic variability.


Conservation Methods for Forest Genetic Resources

The purpose of conserving of forest genetic resources is to maintain hereditary variation in species and local populations far into the future so that their viability and adaptability would be sufficient to cope with changing environmental conditions. Environmental change could be, for example, long-term climate change or changes in ecological conditions caused by forest treatment and management practices.

Methods for conserving forest genetic resources can be classified into two types according to whether the genetic resources are conserved at the original site - in situ or outside the original site - ex situ.

In situ conservation

normally requires that a representative area of undisturbed, natural forest or a naturally regenerated commercial forest is set aside as a gene reserve forest.

Ex situ conservation

is implemented by establishing collections of individual trees in an orchard or by storing seeds, pollen or tissue.

The principal and complementary gene conservation methods that have been adopted for each tree species in Finland are presented in Table 1.

Table 1.
The methods of gene conservation for Finnish tree species. In situ gene reserve forests are used to conserve the common and widely distributed species while rare tree species are primarily conserved by establishing ex situ collections.

The conservation of the genetic resources of grey alder, European aspen and mountain ash does not require intensive special measures because these species occur in large numbers in Finland, and they are also widely distributed outside commercial forests and they are not demanding in their habitat requirements.

In situ conservation

Protected areas and habitats

The principal objective of national parks, nature reserves and other forested conservation areas is to preserve forest ecosystem, but at the same time they may serve genetic conservation. Most of the conservation areas in Finland are on state-owned land and enjoy legal protection and are meant to be permanent. Some small, special habitats, which are valuable for forest trees, are also protected by the Forest Act and the Nature Conservation Act (80/1997).

These regulations are important to the genetic conservation of certain rare tree species because, according to the Nature Conservation Act, natural woods rich in noble hardwoods or black alder and also juniper meadows can be selected as special objects whose treatment must not endanger the special features of the areas. However, for genetic conservation purposes, the nature reserves have two important limitations. Firstly, their coverage and geographic location do not correspond to the needs of genetic conservation. Secondly, the protection prevents management that would be needed to promote regeneration. The regulations also restrict the utilisation of genetic resources.

Gene reserve forests

There are 39 gene reserve forests in Finland altogether and their combined area is about 6,700 hectares. As the network of forest stands are spread over different climate zones, a large range in adaptive traits is included.

The principal aim has been to create an extensive network of gene reserve forests for Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Norway spruce (Picea abies), as well as for silver birch (Betula pendula) and pubescent birch (Betula pubescens). While the network of gene reserve forests for Scots pine is nearly sufficient, those for Norway spruce and the birch species are not. Both spruce and birch are frequently regenerated by planting. In addition, as much of the land is privately owned, it has proven hard to set aside land for gene reserve forests in southern Finland. To overcome these problems, mixed stands and stands that are smaller than the final goal will also be selected for gene reserve forests for Norway spruce and birch species.

Requirements for a gene reserve forest

The basic requirements for a gene reserve forest are that it is of local origin and preferably has been naturally regenerated. Normally a stand is selected as a reserve for a certain species, but mixed species are allowed and the area should comprise several age classes. Gene reserve forests of wind-pollinated tree species, such as Norway spruce (Picea abies), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and birch (Betula pendula and B. pubescens) should be large enough for sufficient pollination to be secured within the forest. The general objective is that a gene reserve forest should cover an area of at least 100 hectares, but initially the area can be smaller if it can be expanded later using a seed source from the same stand. Since pure birch or Norway spruce forests are seldom large enough in southern Finland, suitable mixed stands con-sisting of two or three tree species have also been selected as joint gene resources. For noble hardwoods, which are rare and only grow in small patches, strips or mixed stands in Finland, smaller areas covering only a few hectares are accepted as gene reserve forests.

Management of gene reserve forest

   Päivitetty:   04.07.2006 / JKos Metla :    Palaute Metlan etusivulle
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