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The role of forest genetic resources in responding to biotic and abiotic factors in the context of anthropogenic climate change.

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The current distribution of forest genetic resources on Earth is the result of a combination of natural processes and human actions. Over time tree populations have become adapted to their habitats including the local ecological disturbances they face. As the planet enters a phase of human-induced climate change of unprecedented speed and magnitude however previously locally-adapted populations are rendered less suitable for new conditions and ‘natural’ biotic and abiotic disturbances are taken outside their historic distribution frequency and intensity ranges. Tree populations rely on phenotypic plasticity to survive in extant locations on genetic adaptation to modify their local phenotypic optimum or on migration to new suitable environmental conditions. The rate of required change however may outpace the ability to respond and tree species and populations may become locally extinct after specific but as yet unknown and unquantified tipping points are reached. Here we review the importance of forest genetic resources as a source of evolutionary potential for adaptation to changes in climate and other ecological factors. We particularly consider climate-related responses in the context of linkages to disturbances such as pests diseases and fire and associated feedback loops. The importance of management strategies to conserve evolutionary potential is emphasized and recommendations for policy-makers are provided.

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