Bioversity International: research for development in agricultural and forest biodiversity

Why tree genetic diversity matters

Nut from Vitellaria paradoxa, used to make Shea butter. Credit: Bioversity International/B.Vinceti
Apples in Uzbekistan, Central Asia. Credit: Bioversity International/D.Hunter
Making rope from baobab bark. Credit: Bioversity International/B.Vinceti
A desert tree that shows both the extent of soil erosion and the species ability to tolerate such changes. Credit: Bioversity International/R.Khalil
Genetic code extracted from wood can be used as a forensic tool to crack down on illegal logging. Credit: Bioversity International/J.Loo
Lush forest in Sri Lanka. Credit: Bioversity International/D.Hunter

1. Trees are the foundation species of the forest

Genetic diversity of trees is important to entire forest ecosystems – trees are ‘foundation species’, they play a key structural role in the ecosystems that none of the other species can fill – you can’t have a forest ecosystem without trees.
Research results over the past decade show that species diversity of a forest ecosystem depends on the genetic diversity of the key species (Whitham and others 2006). This means that as genetic diversity of the main tree species is lost, other species, for example insects and fungi, that are specifically associated with trees that have a particular genetic makeup may disappear too, leaving the whole forest ecosystem biologically impoverished.