About this Research Topic
While forest trees have always been recognized as a key source of biomaterials and energy, it was only recently that we realized their vast ecological importance. Trees are now regarded as pivotal players in carbon storage, environmental cleanup, climate change mitigation, biogeochemical cycles, biodiversity preservation and other ecologically-sound processes. All these values notwithstanding, the global number of trees has approximately halved since the end of Pleistocene, 11,700 years ago, and it continues to decline at an alarming rate as a consequence of both human action and harmful environmental factors. The latter include heat waves, drought episodes, pests, erosion, floods, and fires. Human population growth and global warming are both expected to worsen the problem in coming years, with the hypothetical risk that a line of no return will be crossed. Intervention is obviously needed, as human health and the ecological future of our planet are at stake. However, reversing deforestation trends is challenging owing to a combination of (i) the limitations and costs imposed by the long life cycle and bulky nature of trees; (ii) poor public awareness, which translates into limited funding and weak regulation; and (iii) the pressure of alternative land uses, where afforestation often collides with strong economic interests.
Fortunately, the situation may not yet be irreversible. Innovative research and management tools, as well as the advent of intensive plantations are starting to provide examples that another forestry is feasible. Indeed, many scientists and experts advocate for sustainable tree farming as the worthiest and, perhaps, only reliable solution to counteract deforestation. Moreover, a variety of biological technologies are being developed to bolster plantation success and improve the quality and yield of tree biomass. These include enhanced methods for in vitro culture, clonal propagation and interspecific hybridization, as well as novel molecular tools aimed at selecting superior genotypes or even tailoring them through genetic transformation. In parallel with such advances, several genomes of widely planted forest tree species have been recently sequenced and many others are under way. The ensuing bioinformatic analyses, along with a wealth of morphological, biochemical and genetic data from classic and modern high-throughput studies are leading us to an unprecedented understanding of tree biology and evolution. Detailed molecular knowledge on how trees grow, differentiate and respond to environmental fluctuations is providing important cues to improve genetic selection programs. This Research Topic will focus on the traits which are attracting most attention, such as tree size and architecture, wood properties, tolerance to abiotic stresses (mainly drought, temperature extremes and salinity), ability to remediate organic and elemental pollutants, pest and disease resistance, and sterility. Particular attention will be paid to the impact of innovative biological and molecular technology. Research in these fields will gradually close the long-standing gap between trees and both agricultural crops and herbaceous model species. More importantly from an environmental viewpoint, new applications will likely emerge which can foster the growth of sustainable plantation forestry, with a positive impact on forest preservation.
Keywords: Tree farming, Planted forests, Tree biotechnology, Phytoremediation, Carbon sequestration
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.