Preserving pine's genetic heritage

Scientists are working against the clock to collect genetic information from one of the last remaining natural stands of radiata pine on the island of Guadalupe off the west coast of Mexico.

The genetic heritage of this species, one of the worlds most widely grown trees, is under threat from fungal infection and ravenous goats.

Australias radiata plantations are much less diverse than the native populations although they occupy a much greater area, says Dr Colin Matheson of CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products, who joined researchers from American and Mexican universities on an expedition to Guadalupe Island in May 2001.

CSIRO does a lot of breeding work with industry and we need to access as much genetic material as possible to continue a program of tree improvement, he says.

Dr Matheson continues, In particular, we are interested in the Guadalupe Island trees as they grow in a dry climate and have higher density wood. We are investigating planting radiata in drier parts of the Murray Darling Basin beyond the range currently thought of as economically viable.

With a world wide plantation area totalling around 4 million hectares radiata pine is a very versatile species and is used widely in Australia for building and construction, for paper making, in composite wood products and in hygiene products.

Natural stands of radiata pine are now very limited with three on the Californian coast and two on islands off the Pacific coast of Mexico.

The Californian stands are infected with a fungal disease called pitch canker which is carried inside the actual pine seed. This means seeds from these stands cannot be imported into Australia until a treatment that can eliminate the fungus without killing the seed is developed. Previous collections, made before the disease appeared, have sampled these mainland populations.

The stand of just 220 trees on the rugged Mexican island of Guadalupe is currently in good healt

Contact: Mr. Mick Crowe
CSIRO Australia

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