Nowadays even the lay opinion knows that the continuous expansion and many harmful effects of the human civilization seriously endanger the species diversity of living organizations. The annual rate of assumed extinctions exceeds the natural scale at least by 2-3 orders of magnitude.
It is less well known that the genetic erosion of populations threatens with similar dangers as the extinction of species. The disappearance of genetic diversity coded in the genes is invisible and difficult to detect. In the long run, however, it leads to the loss of adaptability and competitiveness of the species.
Detailed genetic examinations are conducted only on very few species because of the high costs and labour intensity. With respect to the rest of the species we can only make educated guesses and take practical protective steps to prevent the genetic decline according to the genetic information observed on model-species: this is the task of gene conservation.
The genetic threats to indigenous trees and shrubs in Hungary are varied. The Forestry Committee of the Plant Gene Bank Council classified forest tree species into three categories depending on the urgency of the tasks and the degree of threats. The endangerment of species and the available genetic information vary obviously to a large extent.
The guidelines supplied by the Forestry Committee intend to provide practical support for the forest managers and nature conservationists who want to do something in the interest of genetically endangered tree species, their active protection and the rational management of genetic resources. It is very important that the protection of the species and genetic diversity of the forest ecosystems is integrated organically into routine forest management and nature conservation. This question cannot be solved as a campaign task at a one-time cost but it requires a continuous, long-term commitment.
Gene conservation appears as a new requirement but in most cases it can be reconciled with the wise use of forests. We would like to stress this point by discussing the modalities of harvesting the timber of the conserved tree species in the guidelines.
The integration of long-term perspectives renders the search for compromises important. Wherever it is applicable, conservation on the spot, close to nature (in situ) should be preferred. Ex situ archiving, the establishment of central collections is less favourable not only because of the risks and costs but also because of the loss of the basic objective of gene conservation in forestry: to maintain the adaptability of the species.
Forestry Committee of the Plant Gene Bank Council.
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