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Select the resilient ones! Let’s save our forests!

Forested area NW of CalgaryThe use of genomic selection in the forestry industry has the potential to address issues such as climate change, drought, pests, and sustainability. Genomic interventions use genetic information and visible traits known as phenotypes to select for specific desirable tree characteristics. By incorporating the use of genomics into tree breeding programs the forestry industry can identify naturally resilient trees that would shorten breeding cycles, improve wood quality, and develop trees better adapted to deal with climate change and pest outbreak threats. The “RES-FOR (Resilient Forests): Climate, Pests & Policy – Genomic Applications” project team have successfully developed genomic selection models and recommendations for resilient tree selection that will enhance the climate adaptive capacity of Canadian forests through the adoption of this technology in the forestry industry. These technologies will also allow for a more competitive and sustainable forestry industry that could increase exports, ultimately benefiting the broader Canadian economy. However, public support and awareness of genomic selection technologies are instrumental in ensuring the uptake of new technologies within government and industry settings.

The work led by the RES-FOR GE3LS (Genomics and its Ethical, Environmental, Economic, Legal, and Social Aspects) team revealed there was lack of public dialogue when it comes to the serious threats to the sustainability of our forests. They acknowledge that uncertainty is an inherent part of applying genomic selection tools in various fields including the forestry industry. This is in part due to the complexity and uncertainty in this space by the public, and not knowing exactly how genomic selection could work to fight climate change.

When it comes to decision-makers and end-users communicating the importance of genomic tools, the RES-FOR GE3LS researchers recommend communicating uncertainty using accessible language, acknowledging multiple viewpoints and values, and promoting transparent justification for decisions. They emphasize that scientists should acknowledge the uncertainties that still exist but communicate what they do know in accessible ways. Effective communication to the public can facilitate uptake of these new technologies, ultimately resulting in resilient forests that can stand against environmental threats.

To learn more about best practices when it comes to communicating genomic selection in the forestry industry check out RES-FOR’s “Framework for assessing and communicating uncertainties: Genomic selection for forestry” (publicly available) and “Co-producing uncertainty in public science: The case of genomic selection in forestry” (you will need access to SAGE Journals).

Select the resilient ones! Let’s save our forests!

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