A brief introduction to CoAdapTree


Typically when replanting, foresters use local tree seed for reforestation. Local populations are generally thought to be the best choice as they have, over long periods time, adapted to the climate conditions of the site. However, with a rapidly changing climate, it is expected that the local populations will be quickly mismatched – potentially within their lifespans, resulting in a widespread maladaptation to both future climate and predicted changes in forest pests and pathogens.

The aim of CoAdapTree is to develop strategies and recommendations, such as climate based seed transfer and assisted migration that will help us grow healthy forests that are better adapted to future conditions. The CoAdapTree Project also aims to develop genomic tools and strategies for improved tree breeding, not only for warmer or drier climate conditions but also for resistance to pathogens.

In the news…. for more radio, print and video coverage see  NEWS AND EVENTS

Designer forests: Scientists hope to tune up Canada’s trees to thrive …” – Vancouver Sun  read more

Gene researchers seek to shield B.C. fish, forests” – Business Vancouver read more

Tree-ring data suggest B.C. is facing harshest droughts in 350 years” – The Globe and Mail read more

Freak Cold Snap Destroys Millions of Seedlings for BC Reforestation” – The Tyee read more

Forests at risk: Swiss needle cast epidemic in Douglas-fir trees unprecedented…” – ScienceDaily read more

Project Activities

Activity 1 – Climate adaptation

Building on the findings of the AdapTree project which revealed a genetic basis for cold-adaptation in Lodgepole pine and interior spruce (same 47 genes linked to climate adaptation in both species – read more), the CoAdapTree project will examine the patterns and extent of parallel adaptation along climatic gradients for Douglas-fir, Western larch, and jack pine. While climate predictions are generally for warmer and drier climates, cold adaptation is still of importance as seedlings must also be able to survive their current growing conditions with frost being a major risk factor in young plantations.

The experiments will involve growing, testing and sampling >10,000 seedlings and established trees from natural and selectively bred populations for their response to drought and frost to determine the candidate genes responsible for drought tolerance and cold injury. The population variation in climate-related traits and the candidate genes will be analyzed and used to inform climate based seed transfer strategies.


Activity 1.1   Candidate genes in Douglas-fir 

We are now establishing the protocols for putting together the phenotype data with the sequencing data, and for performing the GWAS and the GEA analyses… learn more.

Activity 1.2   Candidate genes in western larch and jack pine

RNA extractions completed and sequencing is underway… learn more.

Activity 1.4   Comparative transciptomics of Douglas-fir

Comparing the physiological responses of Douglas-fir to simulated dryer and warmer climates…. learn more.


Activity 2 – Disease resistance

Dothistroma needle blight and Swiss needle cast and are two important diseases of lodgepole pine and Douglas-fir which are predicted to have an increased impact as climates warm. In this study seedlings with a known resistance and a known susceptibility to the diseases will be inoculated and observed for signs of gene expression to determine the candidate genes responsible for pathogen resistance.  The spatial distribution of pathogen resistance will be characterized and used to inform climate based seed transfer guidelines.

Activity 2.1 – Dothistroma Dothistroma on lodgepole pine
causes regeneration failure
Activity 2.2 – Swiss needle cast Swiss needle cast on Douglas-fir
reduces growth 20 to 55%


 Activity 2.1   DothistromaDisease resistance in lodgepole pine

Activity 2.1.1 Host gene expression

We found a dramatic increase in gene expression in a Dothistroma septosporum-tolerant … learn more

Activity 2.1.2 Genome wide association study

We found significant differences in the response of the tree species to Dothistromalearn more

 Activity 2.2   Swiss needle cast – Disease resistance in Douglas-fir

Activity 2.2.1 Host gene expression

We will assess differences in gene expression between resistant and susceptible genotypes… learn more

Activity 2.2.2 Disease expression and phenotyping

We have begun phenotyping >900 Douglas-fir trees and testing inoculation procedures… learn more


Activity 3 – Pathogenicity zones

To determine the potential presence of pathogenicity zones, we will study the genomic variability, the conditions of inoculation, and the temperature adaptations of Swiss needle cast and Dothistroma. These results, combined with long-term climate forecasts will be used to generate models of future pathogen outbreak risks. We are putting together large collections of samples of the fungi causing these diseases from many locations in order to study population variation.


Modeling future
Swiss needle cast
outbreak risk



Future predictions



Activity 3.1  Genomic variability in tree pathogens

We have sequenced the genome of a worldwide collection of ~250 Swiss needle cast isolates … learn more

Activity 3.3 Climate models of outbreak risks

Swiss needle cast – our data has revealed differences in the fine-scale patterns of disease and we are looking for possible climatic and/or genetic explanations … learn more

Activity 4 – Tools and strategies for managing reforestation (Validation and Translation)

For Douglas-fir and lodgepole pine, the recommendations for climate based seed transfer will be based on the maps of climate risks to tree growth and survival (from Activity 1 – Climate Adaptation), the spatial distribution of pathogen resistance in populations (Activity 2 – Disease resistance) and pathogen outbreak risks to the species (Activity 3 – Pathogenicity zones). For western larch and jack pine, the recommendations for climate based seed transfer will be based on the maps of climate risks to tree growth and survival (from Activity 1 – Climate Adaptation).

Genomic tools will be developed for genotyping Douglas-fir and lodgepole pine in breeding programs for climate change and pathogen risk and strategies will be developed for employing genomics-assisted selection.

Activity 5 – Societal dimensions of climate adaptation (GE3LS)

The potential application of genomic tools arising from CoAdapTree (e.g. genomics-assisted selection) in forest management will be influenced by a complex suite of values-based, ethical and institutional factors. For example, the adoption of interventions to actively facilitate ecological transitions (e.g. through assisted range expansion) to follow anticipated future climates is deeply at odds with conventional management paradigms oriented to historical baselines. Thus, the use of genomics-based tools face not only technical challenges of genomic science, but also challenges associated with prevailing values-based and ethical positions that are rooted in normative views about the extent to which humans ought to intervene in natural systems.

Working closely with genomic scientists, the social scientists leading the GE3LS portion of this project are thus examining the following questions:

  • What are the socio-economic costs and benefits of different forest adaptation strategies (including novel genomics-based strategies) as perceived by different stakeholders?
  • What is the current level of public support/opposition for these different strategies?
  • How do different publics and stakeholders perceive the potential risks and benefits of different strategies?
  • What is the historic and current policy landscape in terms of barriers and opportunities to the potential uptake of genomics-informed climate adaptation reforestation strategies?

Outcomes of the GE3LS research will provide crucial information about evolving public attitudes towards the use of genomics, the basis of support/opposition for different strategies, and the policy barriers and opportunities for the implementation of novel forest management practices to adapt to climate change in BC’s forests. Our findings will be communicated in scientific articles, policy briefs, community workshops and blog posts.

The socio-economic outcomes (e.g. timber supply and cost-benefit analysis, and public/industry values and perception of risks) of using these novel climate and pathogen-based interventions in forest management will be investigated. The historic and current policy barriers to implementing these interventions will be profiled and suggestions to enhance their acceptance will be provided.


Activity 5.2   Public perceptions of risks, benefits and preferences for climate adaptation options in BC’s forests

We have designed and are currently pilot-testing a web-based survey of public perceptions of risk, benefits, and levels of support associated with different forest adaptation strategies in BC. …. learn more.

For more general information see “Finding the Genes That Matter“, “What the Future Holds“, and “Variety is the Spruce (and Pine) of Life” in “Seeds, Breeds and Local Needs“, “The Focus of Conversation“, “Surveying the Social Landscape“, and “What is the Best Policy?” in the AdapTree Newsletter.