Drought tolerance and late bud burst are favorable for Norway spruce in future climate

JennyLundstromer 1920x1080 2
Jenny Lundströmer on campus in Umeå in front of Norway spruce trees (photo Sonali Ranade)

How will Norway spruce behave in a changing climate? Jenny Lundströmer, industrial PhD student in Rosario García Gil’s group at UPSC and at former Bergvik Skog, investigated how warmer temperatures, more frequent spring frosts and drought affect Norway spruce from different origins. She recommends breeding not only for better growth but also for drought tolerance and other characteristics that help to adapt to a changing climate. In case of seed shortage from Swedish seed orchards, she advices Norway spruce provenances from Eastern Europe as valuable alternative. Jenny Lundströmer will defend her PhD thesis at SLU on Friday this week, 29th of January. 

Text Anne Honsel

You investigated how Norway spruce can adapt to a changing climate. What aroused your interest into this PhD topic?

I am from a small village just below the arctic circle and grew up with the forest just besides me and have always been interested in how we can use the forest in a sustainable way and still enjoy it. The PhD topic was focussing on where to plant which provenances of Norway spruce to see which ones we should choose today that can survive the next 60 years. The project was part of the industrial graduate school in forest genetics, biotechnology and breeding and was in collaboration with Bergvik Skog that is now part of Stora Enso. For me, that sounded like a great opportunity to work more applied - which I was not doing during my masters - and combine it with my interest in forestry.

How was it to be part of the industrial graduate school that is a collaboration between the UPSC Centre for Forest Biotechnology and its industrial partners?

It was really great because we had regular meetings where we presented our projects and discussed them. I really appreciated this extra training but also the opportunity to follow the projects of the others over the years, see how they develop, discuss problems and exchange tips. Harry Wu also arranged great lectures with top professors in their field and courses that were specifically adjusted to our needs, as well as a trip to the US and Brazil where we saw some breeding institutes and plant nurseries. We also visited each other’s companies and met people there. My industrial partner was Bergvik Skog, where I did a project with seed orchards at their nursery, but I also had collaboration projects with Skogforsk and could get a deeper look into their work. I am really happy that I was part of the graduate school because I learned a lot, got additional experiences and valuable insights into industry and I found new friends through the graduate school.

What are the major threats for Norway spruce due to climate change in Sweden?

One of the biggest problems will be warmer temperatures. You could think that warmer temperatures are good because the trees can grow more as they have a longer vegetation time, but the winters will still be cold with freezing temperatures. This means that the trees have to stop their growth during autumn. There will also be more temperature backlashes in spring increasing the risk for frost damage - especially if bud burst starts earlier due to higher temperatures. In summer, higher temperatures increase the risk for drought. That is why we need trees that set their buds in time despite warmer autumns, that are able to bud burst at the right time in spring to prevent frost damage and that are drought tolerant. Both drought and spring frosts are mostly local problems. The crux will be to choose the right tree for the right place like for example trees with later bud burst on frost prone sites.

Do you think Norway spruce is able to tolerate future climate changes?

It has been growing good here for a long period and I think Norway spruce will survive the near and far future. To predict climate changes in the far future is difficult but the seedlings are the ones that are most sensitive to frost and drought, which make the prediction for the near future more valuable. One of my projects was to test how seeds from Eastern Europe with later bud burst and bud set perform when planted in the South of Sweden. It turned out that the trees are growing good there even though they start the vegetation period later than the Swedish ones. The growth rates are not as good as for trees from Swedish seed orchards but specifically on frost prone sites, the Eastern European provenances with later bud burst are a good alternative. This indicate that in a future with more spring frost events transfer of Norway spruce has to be performed for it to survive.

Which of your results is the most fascinating for you?

We analysed not only the first generation of Eastern European Norway spruce in Sweden but also second-generation material. These are trees that derive from Eastern European stands planted in Sweden that were open pollinated with Swedish populations around and which seeds were then planted out. Normally, we would assume that these trees have about 50% genetic material from the Eastern European material and 50% from the surrounding Swedish ones and that they bud burst after the Swedish material but before the Eastern European material. Astonishingly, we saw that they were closer to the Swedish population in terms of bud burst. Some other studies showed that the climate on the site where you plant a tree is affecting its seeds and we think that this might happen also here. I find it really fascinating to see that Norway spruce has the capacity to adapt this fast to the climate on its local site.

What challenges did you face during your PhD?

Everything took longer than planned but especially the last year was really challenging for me - not only because I wanted to finish my thesis but also because of Corona and all changes connected to this. I used to work from home a lot also before, but I found it strange to not be able to communicate with others in the usual way. The discussions are different if everything is online.

Do you have any recommendations for breeders, forest companies and/or forest owners?

I think that it is important to breed not only for better growth characteristics but also for trees that are able to adapt to a changing climate like for example that are more drought and frost tolerant. By comparing different clones, we saw that there are some that can deal better with drought than others. So, there is the potential. Provenances with later bud burst are better to use on frost prone sites because they are more likely to survive. I can just enhance the recommendation to use also seeds from Eastern Europe, especially as there is a shortage of seeds from Swedish seed orchards due to unregular flowering, insects and pests. Even the second generation of Eastern European trees are a good alternative, but it will be good to think about where to plant them to make sure they are suitable for the respective site.

What are your plans for the future?

First, I would like to take time for myself and my family. Then, I want to finish my papers and do some further analyses that I could not finish before. In parallel, I will look for a job. I would like to work in the forest industry. It does not have to be breeding but should be related to forestry or forest work and it would be nice to do something practical and not only computer work. In one of my projects, I joined the final assessment of the trees at the field sites. The weather was horrible, but I enjoyed doing practical work and see how the trees grow.

About the public defence:

The public defence will take place on Friday, 29th of January 2021 at SLU Umeå. Faculty opponent will be Darius Danusevičius from Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania. Jenny Lundströmer was first supervised by Bengt Andersson Gull and later by María Rosario García Gil and co-supervised by Anna Maria Jönsson from Lund University. She was member of the industrial graduate school in forest genetics, biotechnology and breeding and worked with Bergvik Skog that is now part of Stora Enso, with Oskar Skogström as co-supervisor. At Skogforsk with which she had collaboration projects, she was co-supervised by Johan Westin and Mats Berlin. The dissertation will be live broadcasted via Zoom.

Title of the thesis: Adaption of Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) to current and future climatic conditions

Link to the thesis: https://pub.epsilon.slu.se/21159/

For more information, please contact:

Jenny Lundströmer
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Thesis defense: Jenny Lundströmer, 29th January 2021

Thesis defense: Jenny Lundströmer

Thesis title: Adaptation of Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) to current and future climatic conditions

Date: 2021-01-29, 9:00, P-O Bäckströms Sal, SLU

Opponent: Darius Danusevičius, Faculty of Forest Science and Ecology,Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania

The UPSC industrial research school was on tree breeding tour in Australia and New Zealand

This spring, PhD students and two PIs of the UPSC Research School of Forest Genetics, Biotechnology and Breeding visited different forest research organisations and forest companies in New Zealand and Australia. On their two weeks long trip they got an overview over the Australian forestry sector, and insights into national breeding and seed preservation programs. This was the third time the research school was organising an international excursion. Unfortunately, the additional visit to forestry sites in China had to be cancelled due to the start of the Corona pandemic.

”This trip was amazing, inspiring and a once-in-a-life-time-opportunity,” says Bodil Häggström, one of the students that joined the excursion. “One obvious difference when comparing this area to Sweden is of course the very different assemblage of species”, she explains further. But also “the much higher focus on using foreign species for wood production compared to Swedish forestry where native species are the most used”, was new and interesting information for her.

In New Zealand, the members of the research school visited two institutions – Scion and Timberlands limited. The governmental owned institute Scion is a located in Rotorua and is specialised in research, science and technology development for forest industry. Beside breeding programs, the group got insights into other research activities. Some of those clearly remembered of research conducted at UPSC, like whole genome sequencing of radiata pine, research on somatic embryogenesis or forest pathology.

Timberlands Limited, one of the big New Zealand forest companies working with forest management and operations works closely together with Scion but produces their own clones. The students visited a nursery outside of Rotorua that produces about 10 Million seedlings per year.

Confused assembling in redwoods at SCIONTe Ngae Nursery Timberlands NZ
Participants of the excursion gathering under Redwood trees from the Scion breeding program (left). A Timberland limited nursery outside of Rotorua (Photos: B. Häggström and MR. García-Gil)

The first Australian institution they visited was Tree Breeding Australia (TBA). TBA is the Australian national body that manages tree improvement programs. The original goal of the TBA is to create seed orchards and new breeding values for the Australian forestry industry. In their breeding arboreta, the students saw the production of new genotype seed material for forestry companies. The main species they work with are radiata pine and blue gum eucalyptus. 

Another Australian Institution, the research school group took a closer look at, was the Australian Tree Seed Centre (ATSC). The ATSC belongs to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and is one of the National Research Collections. ATSC is a collection and research centre for Australian native tree species and has been supplying quality tree seed to customers worldwide. ATSC not only has a big physical collection of seeds but also an extensive database with information about these seeds. The data can be used to track nationally and internationally exported tree material and also in worldwide studies on invasive species.

Straight rows eucalyptus TBAKoala in eucalypt TBA koala habitatlgTBbhNCdOg
Eucalyptus clones are planted in straight rows at a TBA plantage (photo left).  Eucalyptus is not only an important Australian tree species for forestry but also serves as habitat for Koalas (photo middle). In ATSC seed storage all seeds are stored in tin cans to keep them dry (photo right; Photos: B Häggström, MR García-Gil).

Thesis defense: Irena Fundova, 24th April 2020

Thesis defense: Irena Fundova

Thesis Title: Quantitative genetics of wood quality traits in Scots pine

Date: 2020-04-24, 9:00, P-O Bäckström Sal.

Opponent: Philippe Rozenberg, French National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE)

The committee:
Ann Christin Rönnberg-Wästljung, Dpt. Plant biology, SLU 
Arne Steffenrem, Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research, NIBIO 
Matti Haapanen, National Resource Insitutet Finland, LUKE

Congratulations to Irena Fundova! She successfully defended her PhD thesis at SLU Umeå. Due to the current situation and following official regulations, the entire thesis defens was broadcasted online. Both the commitee and the opponent joint remotely. The whole defens has been recorded and the video is still openly accessible (link: https://play.slu.se). 

irenafundova defens portraitdefens irenafundova screenshot
Irena Fundova after successfully defending her PhD. The whole defens was conducted online with the commmitee members joining remotely (Photos: S. Ranade,
R. Garcia-Gil).

On the homepage of UPSC you can read more about Irena and her PhD work. Please follow this link: Fast and non-destructive ways to estimate wood quality in forest trees to optimize breeding strategies for Scots pine

Thesis defense: Alexis Sullivan, 11th March 2020

Thesis defense: Alexis SULLIVAN

Thesis title: A Forest Dark: An Evolutionary History of Norway Spruce

Date: 2020-03-11, 13:00, Kempe salen KBC.

Opponent: Prof. Bengt Oxelman, Department of Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg.

The committee:

Professor Martin Lascoux, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University
Docent Folmer Bokma, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, University of Oslo
Docent Benedicte Albrectsen, Department of Plant Physiology, UPSC, Umeå University

Visit to SweTree Technology, 9th December 2019

On 9th of December 2020 some students of the resaerch school were visiting the facilities of SweTree Technologies in Umeå. SweTree is one of the Industrial Partners that also participate in educating students. 

IMG 2005                                             
PhD st
udents gathering infront of the SweTree facility located at SLU in Umeå (Photo: R. Garcia-Gil).

Thesis defense: Ainhoa Calleja-Rodriguez 29th May, 2019

Thesis defense: Ainhoa Calleja-Rodriguez 

Thesis title: Quantitative Genetics and Genomic Selection of Scots Pine

Date: 2019-05-29, 09:00, P-O Bäckströms sal (SLU Umeå)

Opponent: Dr Heidi Dungey, Senior Scientist and Science Leader of Forest Genetics, Scion (New Zealand Forest Research Institute

Thesis defense: Julia Christa Haas, 14th December 2018

Thesis defense: Julia Christa Haas
 Thesis title: Abiotic stress and plant microbe interaction in Norway spruce.
Swedish title: Abiotisk stress och interaktioner mellan växter och mikroorganismer i gran.

Date: 2018-12-14, 10:00 AM, KBC-huset, Stora hörsalen KB.E3.03 


Jennifer Baltzer, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Forest and Global Change Department of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada.


2018 Annual Meeting of the New Industrial Graduate Research School in Forest Genetics, Biotechnology and Breeding

The 2018 annual meeting of the Research School was taking place in Sävar, at the facilities of the Forestry Research Institute, Skogforsk. Skogforsk is the cetnral research body of the Swedish forestry sector and one of the industrial partners of the research school. Beside visiting Skogforsk research facilities members of the Research School also visited the Norra Timber sawmill in Sävar. The Norra Timber sawmill has the world´s first CT Log (Computed Tomography) integrated into the saw line.

As part of the annual meeting members of the research school were guided around the facilities of Skogforsk
in Sävar and visited the
NorraTimber sawmill in Sävar (Photo: R. Garcia-Gil).

Read more: 2018 Annual Meeting of the New Industrial Graduate Research School in Forest Genetics,...

Thesis defense: Johanna Carlsson, 28th September 2018

Title: Nitrogen uptake and assimilation during Norway spruce somatic embryogenesis-investigating the role of glutamine

Opponent: Professor Francisco M Cánovas, Department de Biologia Molecular y Bioquimica, Facultad de Ciencias, Campus Universiatrio de Teatinos, Universidad de Málaga, Spain
Supervisor: Ulrika Egertsdotter