Does tree improvement conflict with the conservation of biodiversity?
Tree breeders rarely consider the ecological implications of their activities, but with recent global initiatives focusing on the conservation of biodiversity, the activities of tree breeders require critical examination. As ex situ approaches to genetic conservation will always be inadequate in the long term, greater attention needs to be paid to in situ conservation of the genetic resources on which tree breeders depend. The deployment of genetically improved material may have direct negative impacts on the status of native biodiversity, by the introduction of exotic species or non-native sources of germplasm. To avoid such conflicts between tree improvement and biodiversity conservation, new approaches need to be developed. It is suggested here that tree improvement should be redefined as a rural development activity, with an emphasis on the development of local genetic resources through the participation of local communities. In this way, in situ conservation and genetic improvement may be fully integrated, enabling forest genetic resources to be developed sustainably.