SLU news

Environmental effects of improved pine trees explored in new project

Published: 27 September 2023
Two people working on a lying tree trunk.

To boost forest production, pine tree seedlings are genetically improved to yield faster-growing trees with better qualities for the industry. However, our understanding of how these genetic alterations impact ecosystems is limited. In a new research project, scientists from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) will investigate how various genetic variations of pine trees affect the habitats of endangered insects and the soil's ability to store carbon.

The cultivation of tree seedlings has been ongoing in Sweden for a long time, with seedlings displaying desirable traits being selected and crossbred to enhance both production and timber quality. In Sweden, this genetic improvement has advanced significantly, increasing forest growth by up to 30 percent.

In addition to their economic value, these fast-growing trees also have the potential to help mitigate the effects of climate change by capturing and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.

“However, the situation may not be quite as straightforward. A significant portion of carbon in the forest is stored in the soil, and recent studies suggest that stored carbon may be released when above-ground production increases. We need to determine the facts and identify the pine tree varieties that are most effective for carbon sequestration in the soil," says Petter Axelsson, a researcher at SLU leading the study.

This comprehensive study aims to understand the relationships between tree genetics and characteristics and the ecosystem processes of the soil, as well as how these processes might be affected in a changing climate. The research is taking place in areas where eight different types of genetically distinct progenies of scots pine were originally planted in the 1950s, spanning from northern to southern Sweden.

By conducting experiments across a range of climates, researchers can gain insight into the climate's impact on these processes, which is crucial for adapting measures to a changing climate.

The project also examines how genetic improvement for faster growth affects wood properties and how this, in turn, can impact organisms that rely on deadwood.

"Many of the species in the forest that are endangered today depend on deadwood. It is essential to find out if faster-growing trees affect these species. Understanding the benefits and challenges of tree breeding can contribute to more sustainable forest management and climate policies," says Petter Axelsson.


The project, 'Synergies and trade-offs with the use of forest genetic resources for carbon sequestration and conservation in face of climate change,' is funded by the Formas Research Council and runs from 2023 to 2025.