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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

A pre-adaptive approach for tropical forest restoration during climate change using naturally occurring genetic variation in response to water limitation

Axelsson, E. Petter; Grady, Kevin C.; Lardizabal, Maria L. T.; Nair, Ignatius B. S.; Rinus, Daideth; Ilstedt, Ulrik


Effective reforestation of degraded tropical forests depends on selecting planting material suited to the stressful environments typical at restoration sites that can be exacerbated by increased duration and intensity of dry spells expected with climate change. While reforestation efforts in nontropical systems are incorporating drought-adapted genotypes into restoration programs to cope with drier conditions, such approaches have not been tested or implemented in tropical forests. As the first effort to examine genetic variation in plant response to drought in a tropical wet forest, we established a watering experiment using five replicated maternal lines (i.e. seedlings from different maternal trees) of five dipterocarp species native to Borneo. Apart from the expected species level variation in growth and herbivory (3-fold variation in both cases), we also found intraspecific variation so that growth in some cases varied 2-fold, and herbivory 3-fold, among genetically different maternal lines. In two species we found that among-maternal line variation in growth rate was negatively correlated with tolerance to water limitation, that is, the maternal lines that performed the best in the high water treatment lost proportionally more of their growth during water limitation. We argue that selection for tolerance to future drier conditions is not only likely to impact population genetics of entire forests, but likely extends from forest trees to the communities of canopy arthropods associated with these trees. In tropical reforestation efforts where increased drought is predicted from climate change, including plant material resilient to drier conditions may improve restoration effectiveness.


climate change; Dipterocarpaceae; drought tolerance; genetic variation; herbivory; reforestation; tropical forest restoration

Published in

Restoration Ecology
2020, volume: 28, number: 1, pages: 156-165
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
Grady, Kevin C.
Northern Arizona University
Lardizabal, Maria L. T.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah
Nair, Ignatius B. S.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah
Rinus, Daideth
Universiti Malaysia Sabah
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land
SDG13 Climate action

UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)