Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), also known as western yellow pine (Py), is a dominant tree species in the southern interior of British Columbia (BC) and is commercially important for lumber and logging. It is also highly valued by Indigenous peoples, who use it for several applications, including canoe construction.
Py currently occupies the hottest and driest forest habitat and survives in a climate with minimal rainfall. With global warming, the climate niche of Py is projected to undergo major northward expansion by 2050. Thus, the economic value of Py will increase, like that in the US, where it is the second most important tree species for harvest volume in the northern region. To capture this opportunity, the BC Ministry for Forest Land Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) is enhancing efforts for Py seedling plantation by establishing a new breeding program at Kalamalka Forestry Centre near Vernon, Canada to meet the projected increases in Py seed demand.
A major challenge for the breeding program is to maintain and improve physiological adaptation of Py, which in their current distribution will be challenged by warmer temperatures, earlier snowmelt and more frequent late-summer droughts, all of which could lead to increased failure rate of plantations. To address this challenge, Dr. Marie Vance from FLNRORD and Professor Jim Mattsson at Simon Fraser University are collaborating to develop tools for genomic selection in the Py breeding program. Using transcriptomics and genomics, they will identify genes responsible for variation in drought tolerance, as well as genetic variation that would make trees productive and tolerant of predicted environmental changes. These genomic tools will help jumpstart the breeding program for Py, which is an important part of BC’s climate change adaptation strategy.