How will birches respond to Global Climate Change? When population genetics meets breeding

SNIC 2017/7-149


SNAC Small

Principal Investigator:

Martin Lascoux


Uppsala universitet

Start Date:


End Date:


Primary Classification:

10609: Genetics (medical to be 30107 and agricultural to be 40402)



Global climate change will strongly affect high latitude vegetation and the woody cover in the arctic could increase by as much as 52 % by 2050. Birch is the most common tree species in Scandinavia and the third most important species economically. Three birch species grow in Scandinavia: two trees, the silver birch, the downy birch, and one shrub, the dwarf birch. The three species did not evolve independently and previous studies have shown that the three species do hybridize. It is therefore important to consider all species simultaneously when analyzing the response of birches to global climate change. Breeding programs focusing on the silver birch were established in the 1970s and were based on classical recurrent selection methods. Yet, occurrence of natural polyploidy, inter-specific hybridization and the ability to propagate asexually, together with very early flowering (less than 1 year) and a relatively small genome size that was recently sequenced, makes birches ideal to implement innovative breeding approaches. In the present project we will combine population genomic studies of hybridization and local adaptation along latitudinal gradients with studies of the response of birches to elevated temperatures under controlled conditions. These new data, together with data from the Swedish birch breeding program will then be used to evaluate the potential of genomic selection for the development of advanced breeding material adapted to the new environmental conditions.