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January, 2015

Diverse Forests, Emerging Opportunities Issue 2

Issue 2, January 2015

A new future for diverse forests research

Welcome to the second edition of our quarterly newsletter. In the first issue (September 2014), we highlighted our recent results and predicted genetic gains for Eucalyptus regnans, grafting for the cypress breeding orchard, progress on the Douglas-fir density model and some of the new cypress hybrid trials.

A lot has happened since then. A concerted team effort meant the MBIE partnership proposal was able to be submitted prior to Christmas. An enormous amount of energy and effort went into this, and we would like to acknowledge the contributions of Doug Gaunt, John Walker, Paul Millen, Russell Dale, Russell Burton, Alison Slade and Val Clarke. Without this team, the proposal would not have got off the ground. Thanks also to the individual companies and organisations who are behind this new venture. We have summarised some of the key content in this issue.

Considerable progress has also been made on the assessment of the E. nitens breeding population. Dean Meason and the redwood growers have submitted a proposal to the Sustainable Farming Fund for research on the durability of redwood heartwood.

Planning for our Swiss needle cast workshop was going well, but the December timing meant it was difficult for people to attend, so the decision was made to postpone it until the new year. See below for more details.

We achieved a lot in the last three months of 2014. Both Pat and I extend our best wishes to you for the New Year and look forward to working with you once again.

Heidi Dungey and Patrick Milne


Eucalyptus nitens wood quality study

Our Eucalyptus nitens population has been assessed for many traits, including growth, form, health, growth strain, pulp yield and density. We are finally measuring shrinkage and growth strain from billets in our latest breeding trials in order to select for good wood properties.

These third-generation trials in Southland will be used to estimate breeding values to back-select and rogue existing seed orchards, as well as providing forward selections for the next generation. Nearly 800 trees are being measured; a huge feat and something that would not have been possible without assistance and in kind support from Southwood Exports Ltd.

Harvesting billets from our breeding trials.

Also, leaves have all been collected from the same trees. DNA will be extracted next year with a view to genotyping (i.e. obtaining the genetic identity) each tree using a commercially available eucalypt SNP chip (a large number of DNA markers). This is the same SNP chip that Emily Telfer used to identify which parents were represented in forward selections from the E. nitens seed orchard last year, so we know it works on our population.

Once we have the genotypes of all these trees, we will then test to see if strong relationships (correlations) are discernible between the 70,000 SNP markers for each tree, and any change in phenotype (what the tree looks like, actual measurements or breeding values).

This will be our first proof of concept of genomic selection in eucalypts in New Zealand. The speed of this exciting step will depend on our funding base, and will certainly be faster should we be successful with the MBIE partnership.


Upcoming events

Growing Confidence in Forestry’s Future Conference 2015 24-25 March 2015.
Hagley Oval Pavillion, Christchurch.
Programme and online registration available shortly at:

Swiss Needle Cast Workshop
‘What we know, what we can do’
26 March 2015, Christchurch. Venue TBC

This workshop is aligned with the Growing Confidence in Forestry’s Future conference, and is part of the Forest Owners Association and Scion funded research to discuss how we can grow more, and better Douglas-fir despite SNC. The programme will cover the latest knowledge about SNC pathology, climate and its effect on the disease, management of the disease, and genetic solutions.

Further information will be available for both events short ly on the Events section of our website:

Progress with MBIE partnership

A partnership proposal for Diverse Species research was submitted to MBIE in December. The proposal is exciting as it extends across the entire value chain and encompasses work on wood products and processing through to breeding. If approved by MBIE, this programme will be a first in the forest industry adopting a whole-of-value-chain approach.

The proposal seeks $700k of MBIE funding that will be equally matched by industry. Discussions with industry participants are continuing to confirm this amount. Scion is also proposing to align a further $550k core funding, which results in a total of about $1.9M for the programme.

The proposal is currently going through the MBIE evaluation and review process and we hope to know the result by the end of March. 

This partnership will be led by Future Forests Research Ltd and for the first time, involves collaboration between Scion, the New Zealand Dryland Forests Initiative and the University o f Canterbury.

The focus of the proposal is on both durable and non-durable timber species, including Douglas-fir, Eucalyptus fastigata, E. nitens, E. regnans, E. bosistoana, E. globoidea and the cypresses. We aim to investigate the key wood properties and bottlenecks to processing for new solid wood products, segregation, determining the key drivers to shrinkage and durability as well as investigating the utility of new wood modification technologies (e.g. thermal treatment) to increase the quality and value of sawn timber.

Breeding trials will be assessed and monitored for pest and disease loads to identify resistance and tolerance for long-term forest resilience.  We will also begin the integration of breeding and molecular genetics while testing genomic selection in at least one breeding population.

Technology transfer will be through the formation of regional interest groups, including councils, industry, investors and scie ntists as well as industry conferences and field days.

We are all very excited by the opportunities offered by this new proposal and hope that you will all feel the same.

If you would like to learn more about this initiative, then please contact Russell Dale at


Meet our quantitative geneticist, Mari

Quantitative geneticist, Dr Mari Suontama.

Dr Mari Suontama joined Scion’s forest genetics team in December 2013, relocating from Finland where her PhD research at the University of Helsinki involved the genetic analysis of foal and studbook traits in selection for racing performance in trotting horses. Mari is now applying quantitative genetic methods and models in tree breeding data for eucalypts, Douglas-fir cypresses and radiata pine.

“The breeding programme for E. regnans in New Zealand is now entering its fourth generation,” says Mari. “Last year I conducted a genetic analysis across all three generations. The results showed that good genetic gains have been made for growth and disease resistance throughout the whole breeding programme with current stands likely to set growth records.

“We also conducted a genetic analysis of E. fastigata. The heritability of growth, form and disease resistance indicates that we can make considerable genetic progress in the current breeding programme.”

Mari is also applying her analytical skills to New Zealand.

“New Zealand is very beautiful and I find the culture here intriguing and attractive. I’m particularly enjoying the mild climate and the lifestyle that Rotorua offers, the closeness of the sea and your amazing beaches!”


For further information

Dr Heidi Dungey at:

Register for our quarterly newsletter
Contact Lynn Bulman:

The Diverse Forests research programme is co-funded
by MBIE, Scion and the Forest Growers Levy Trust.

Copyright 2014 NZ Forest Research Institute, trading as Scion. All rights reserved.
Diverse Species News is published quarterly, and is also available in hard copy format.

Our mailing address is:
Private Bag 3020
New Zealand


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