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5. DNA can be used to crack down on illegal logging

Genetic code extracted from wood can be used as a forensic tool to crack down on illegal logging (Lowe and Cross 2011). Illegal logging is a serious problem in many forested areas. It is estimated that more than 50% of the wood exported from the Amazon, Central Africa, Southeast Asia and Russia is illegally harvested. The annual loses in revenues and assets, estimated at between US$ 10-15 billion, are just part of the picture. There are also serious environmental and social consequences.  The fact that the genetic 'fingerprint' of each individual tree is unique means that a log can be 'tracked' from its point of origin to its final destinations as multiple finished products, and producer claims can be verified at any step along the way.

Trees have patterns of genetic diversity over geographic space, and typically trees that are geographically close to each other are more similar than those farther away. That means that even trees that were not individually fingerprinted before being harvested can be tracked, because of distinct geographic fingerprints. Furthermore, each species has distinctive DNA, so genetic code can be used to identify the species of wood from closely related tree species. This can be an issue when logging is prohibited for one of the species in a closely related group, but allowed for another.

For more information visit the Global Timber Tracking Network website.

Forest scientists at Bioversity International study how to conserve and manage the genetic diversity of trees — the foundation and backbone of any forest.

Learn about their work

Genetic diversity of forest trees is important for many reasons. Here are some little known facts that illustrate the importance of tree genetic diversity.