Protecting Plant Genetic Resources

Landscape picture: open meadows with yellow flowers in the foreground, conifer forest in the mid-ground, and sparsely forested hills in the background.
Protecting genetic resources of all native plant species is an important mission of the Forest Service.

Why do we care about genetics?

Protecting plant genetic resources is an important mission of the Forest Service. Safeguards for maintaining local adaptation and genetic diversity in native conifer species, for example, have long been the foundation of reforestation practices and nursery operations. These same considerations are now being applied to the development and use of plant materials for other types of native species, including hardwood trees and shrubs, grasses, and forbs.

Plant materials that are not genetically suited to conditions of a planting site may cause the project to fail outright or not be sustainable over time. Poorly adapted plants may even negatively affect neighboring populations of the same species if they contribute pollen or seeds to them.

two persons planting native plants enclosed in planting tubes along an abandoned forest road.
Planting and protecting native seedlings on an abandoned roadway.

Ensuring genetic diversity is also important because it can strongly influence the long-term viability of plant populations, and their ability to adapt to changing climatic and environmental conditions. Plant materials that lack genetic diversity may be more susceptible to pathogens and other environmental stresses, and less competitive with exotic invasive species. Overall, the use of genetically inappropriate plant materials can have unanticipated and cascading negative effects throughout the ecosystem.

Important Questions

The following reports explore some of the important questions relating to the conservation and management of plant genetic resources. Special emphasis is given to genetic issues and risks associated with the development and use of native plant materials in restoration.

Additional Resources and References

The National Forest Genetics Lab (NFGEL) FY16 Annual Report

Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices For Federal Lands cover.

The National Forest Genetics Laboratory (NFGEL) provides genetic testing and information for integrated solutions to on-the-ground problems faced by natural resource managers and policy makers. NFGEL has published their Fiscal Year 2016 Annual report describing the laboratory's activities and accomplishments.

Their work guided restoration and conservation efforts, identified mislabeled reforestation material and unwanted hybrids between native and exotic species, and determined if tested plants were species and/or varieties that warranted special protection.

Read NFGEL's report (PDF, 3.6 MB)…