Current issue: 56(4)
Genetic parameters of growth and stem quality traits were estimated for open-pollinated silver birch Betula pendula Roth progenies in Latvia at the age of 10 and 14 years. Tree height and stem volume were found to be under strong genetic control at both inventories (narrow-sense heritabilities varied from 0.41 to 0.66). Mainly low heritabilities were found for stem defects, yet genetic control of branch diameter, stem straightness and overall stem quality varied from low to high depending on study site. High additive genetic coefficient of variation was found for stem volume (25.3–32.5%). Genetic correlations among growth traits were strong and positive (0.90–0.99). Mainly weak genetic correlations between growth and quality traits implied simultaneous improvement. Still, strong negative correlations between branch angle and stem straightness might result in enlarged knot size for straighter logs. The genetic age-age correlations were strong. Weak genotype by environment interaction and stability of best genotypes over different sites was indicated by strong genetic correlations between trials. Each growth or quality trait alone showed substantial improvement in terms of estimated genetic gain (up to 62% over trial mean for stem volume). Therefore, selection index combining both growth and stem quality may be developed.
Populations of tree species with a wide geographic range, such as silver birch (Betula pendula Roth), show genetic specialization to native environments, while maintaining high phenotypical plasticity. Accordingly, assessment of local specialization is essential for adaptive management. The aim of the study was to detect geographic patterns of local adaptation of growth and stem quality based on two open-pollinated progeny trials in Latvia testing local material. Two provenance regions differing by continentality were distinguished, which also differed in genetic control of growth traits, likely originating from the post-glacial recolonization of vegetation and subsequent natural adaptation. Heritability of the traits was estimated for each of the distinguished regions, indicating differing patterns of genetic adaptation and potential for future selection. Trees from the more continental inland showed superior growth and possessed higher heritability. The coastal provenance region showed slower growth and intermediate heritability of the respective traits. Moderate to high heritability for stem quality traits was estimated irrespectively of region. Overall, better growth and higher heritability suggests that anthropogenic selection within the best inland provenances may constitute better performing and adaptable breeding population compared to the coastal one. Still, overlapping phenotypical variation and heritability of quality traits implies improved stemwood quality for plywood regardless of the provenance region. High adaptive capacity of silver birch genotypes suggests ability to cope with climatic changes, highlighting its potential for climate-smart forestry.