I might inherit a piece of a Latvian forest one day. It has been in the family for almost a century now. What will I do with it? I don’t know yet, but it sure does sound cool.
Last time we checked, forests covered almost 54% of my homeland. We’re people of music but even more so, we’re people of nature, forests and old traditions.
Summers are spent picking berries off the forest floor and weaving flower and leaf crowns for Jāņi, the annual Latvian festival celebrating the summer solstice. Autumns are for mushrooming and hunting. Winters for driving by, snapping the perfect Instagram photo (#winterwonderland) and God forbid stepping out of your heated paradise. Springs are for watching that wonderland wake up from its icy rest and reveal itself in all of its glory with fragrant and courageous tree buds, birdsong and – my favorite thing – fragile snowdrops emerging from the snow-covered forest floor.
A couple years ago, I excitedly told a tree geneticist about my origins and that, yes, I’m a communications person but I understand the magic of nature, it’s not all about KPIs and target audiences and font styles for me. He – slightly dwindling my enthusiasm – replied that sure, but there is very little genetic diversity in those forests. Indeed, Latvian forests mainly house pine, spruce, oak, birch, aspen and others; nothing compared to the lush tropical forests of say, Indonesia, Brazil or the Congo basin. The minimal Latvian forest landscape depends on only a couple tree species – among the rest of elements that make up a forest ecosystem – something that, when the climate changes or a pest strikes, might not end well.
But it is not just about protecting the trees we already have. We have to think about the trees to come and genetic diversity of trees plays an invaluable role in this story.
Unlike many agricultural crops, trees do not perform well if they are inbred. Bioversity International forestry experts say that inbreeding often results in poor growth, greater susceptibility to stress and reduced regeneration success. In addition, to restore a self-sustaining forest ecosystem, the planting material must have sufficient genetic diversity so that future generations resulting from their seeds avoid inbreeding and have the capacity to adapt to changing conditions, including future climates.
Luckily, I’m in Bonn for the Global Landscapes Forum (which you can follow online) where at 14:00 in the Restoration Pavilion, the freshly minted Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration will raise awareness of exactly this: why species and genetic diversity is a no-brainer if you want climate-resilient restoration.
If I’m ever lucky enough to own my grandfather’s piece of forest, I’ll know to love and respect the genetic secrets that lie below the beautiful fluttering seeds of our linden trees (great when dried and used for tea, FYI) and the rugged bark of my great grandfathers’ oak tree.
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This post is part of the live coverage during the GLF Bonn 2017 Global event. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.