Western redcedar (WRC), the official tree of BC, is of great spiritual significance to First Nations and contributes over $1B annually to BC’s economy. As the WRC timber supply shifts from old (high wood volume) to second growth (low wood volume) forests, it is facing significant challenges due to the changing climate. Increasing temperatures and droughts along with pathogen and herbivore pressures are having an impact at the landscape level.
To address this, Forest Improvement & Research Management (FIRM) branch of BC’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (MFLNRORD) is generating genetically improved elite genotypes (an individual collection of genes), with enhanced volume growth and wood durability, to meet current and future demands of the WRC breeding program. With funding support from Genome BC and Genome Canada, UBC professor Joerg Bohlmann and FIRM have developed innovative genomic selection (GS) models to identify elite WRC genotypes. They will be deployed for successful next generation tree improvement and seed orchard production. This innovation is one of the world’s first GS approach in conifers and aims to dramatically reduce conventional breeding cycles and selection times.
Building upon this success, the CEDaR B2 (Blight & Browse) GeneSolve project aims to incorporate screening for two additional phenotypes (observable traits) – resistance to deer browse and fungal foliar disease. Deer browse causes severe and irreversible damage to young trees, and the current protection practices, such as application of plastic cones, are costly ($6M/yr), unsustainable and labor intensive. Foliar diseases, such as cedar leaf blight, heavily impact growth and there are no silviculture tools available to protect WRC against leaf blight.
In order to benefit from gains in growth and wood quality, it is essential that young trees get established without damage from animal browsing and by limiting the impact of foliar diseases on juvenile growth in a cost effective and environmentally sustainable fashion. Application of GS models will support these objectives by shortening the WRC breeding cycle from 20 to two years for selection of these phenotypes at the seedling stage, thereby adding tremendous value to the WRC breeding program.