Mike Carson, the Business Development Manager at Gemnetics, is writing a short article series about breeding topics arising from the perspective that he and Sue Carson have developed during their (combined) 79 years involvement in forest tree breeding.

Mike has used Gemview on a daily basis to track his trial breeding data and view trends and relationships in order to increase the productivity of the Forest Genetics breeding and clonal deployment program.

Mike's articles will be published on our Gem news page. If you would like to contact Mike to comment or share your own insights, please contact him through our contact us page, or directly through Mike's Linkedin profile.

New phenotyping tools will assist genetic gain realisation in plantation forests


Smart inventory tools now coming available will enable much more accurate phenotyping in plantation forests. They will provide early and regular estimates of improved tree performance on a stand-level scale and at much-reduced cost. New remote-sensing tools including LiDAR, coupled with the rapidly-developing implementation of UAVs, are bringing about a revolution in plantation inventory systems, along with many other forest operations. Tree breeders stand to greatly benefit from the opportunities these tools offer for providing both validation and feedback information for seed orchard and clonal deployment programmes, including the ability to track genotypes into plantations, and perhaps in future, into wood products as well.

Figure 1: This LIDAR image is of a 7-year-old compartment planting of radiata pine, with colour-coding of tree height from ground level (blue) to above 8 metres height. Stands of Forest Genetics clonal varieties “FGC/15”, and “FGC/17” can be compared with an open-pollinated seed orchard stand “99/185” and control-pollinated seed orchard stands “02/313” and “04/503”.

However, as exciting as these new tools undoubtedly are, they will not by themselves deliver an optimal genetic gain outcome, since breeders will need to continue to rely on some of the key tools already in their armoury, including:

• Effective and appropriate experimental design

• ‘Best practice’ trial establishment and management

• Comprehensive documentation of trial materials and attributes, and

• Accurate and reliable data capture and storage in a flexible database

The power and benefits of continuing to use well-designed, randomised and well-replicated progeny and clonal trials should not be underestimated. A combination of single-tree-plot trials for evaluation of numerous clonal candidates, double row-plot trials for initial performance validation, and large-block trials for confirming productivity gains have proven to be very effective for many tree breeding programmes.

Key decisions also have to be made in selecting appropriate experimental controls, and selecting trial sites and a silvicultural regime that will be representative of the plantation estate. While detailed recording of climate and site variables may be helpful in subsequently improving estimates of genetic parameters, including trait heritability, such approaches have had limited utility in the past, and should require a cost:benefit evaluation before becoming standard. Good record-keeping in a reliable database (e.g. Gemview) is also essential for:

1. Ensuring that traits are standardised, and successive measurements are accurately checked, securely stored, and protected from inadvertent losses or amendment.

2. Maintaining reliable trial information and field notes, such that spurious results are not inadvertently used in subsequent BLUP, and other analyses, and

3. Providing quick and easy access to data and data summaries in support of programme decision-making.

Tree breeders can aspire to a future in which these and other new tools will enable their crops to be increasingly managed as intensively as many agricultural crops are at present, and for which the genetic composition and its expression will become increasingly designed and tailored towards desired outcomes –leading to the realisation of huge gains in productivity and profitability.