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Last update: May 2021

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Context, positioning and objectives

EPITREE project aims to address one of the main research questions raised in the scientific road map established in the framework of the EU FoResTTraC ( project focusing on the adaptation of forest trees to climate change: “Estimation of the effects and rates of adaptive processes in forest ecosystems by focusing on tree plasticity, local adaptation and potential epigenetic responses”.

Within this framework, we plan to decipher variations in DNA methylation, gene expression, and genome structure in natural populations and controlled experiments, to improve our understanding of the potential contribution of natural epigenetic variation to genetic adaptation and phenotypic plasticity in trees.


Global changes affect the productivity and survival of most living organisms in all ecosystems [1]. Plants, as sessile organisms, have developed a high sensitivity to their environment and a strong potential for adaptation based on a high level of standing genetic variation [2] and remarkable phenotypic plasticity [3]. Trees are outstanding organisms in terms of their extreme size, long lifespan, complex life cycles and wood production. [4]

Trees and forests also play a major role in Earth’s ecology, by supplying a range of ecosystem services [5]. In the past decades, widespread forest die-off due to drought and/or heat constraints has been observed around the world for all forest biomes, and is predicted to increase with ongoing climate change [6, 7]. Climate change models predict further increases in mean temperature, and increases in the frequency and severity of extreme droughts.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to improve our understanding of the mechanisms of adaptation in trees, to facilitate the design of new genetic material through breeding and/or biotechnological approaches, to improve the management of genetic resources, to prevent forest loss and to guarantee that these ecosystems continue to play their economic and ecological roles.

Cited publications

[1] Chapin FS, Zavaleta ES, Eviner VT, Naylor RL, Vitousek PM, Reynolds HL, Hooper DU, LavorelS, Sala OE, Hobbie SE, Mack MC, Díaz S (2000) Consequences of changing biodiversity. Nature 405:234-242.

[2] Chen J, Glémin S, Lascoux M (2017) Genetic Diversity and the Efficacy of Purifying Selection across Plant and Animal Species. Mol Biol Evol msx088. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msx088

[3] Nicotra AB, Atkin OK, Bonser SP, Davidson AM, Finnegan EJ, Mathesius U, Poot P, Purugganan MD, Richards CL, Valladares F, et al. (2010) Plant phenotypic plasticity in a changing climate. Trends in Plant Science 15: 684–692.

[4] Neale DB, Martínez-García PJ, De La Torre AR, Montanari S, Wei XX (2017) Novel Insights into Tree Biology and Genome Evolution as Revealed Through Genomics. Annual Review of Plant Biology 68: in press DOI: 10.1146/annurev-arplant-042916-041049

[5] Commission on genetic resources for food and agriculture food and agriculture organization of the United Nations (2014). The state of the world’s forest genetic resources. ISBN 978-92-5-108402-1 pp 1-276.

[6] Allen CD, Macalady AK, Chenchouni H, Bachelet D, McDowell N, Vennetier M, Kitzberger T, Rigling A, Breshears DD, Hogg EH, et al. (2010) A global overview of drought and heat-induced tree mortality reveals emerging climate change risks for forests. Forest Ecology and Management 259: 660–684

[7] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2014) Field CB, Barros VR, eds. Climate change: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability: Working Group II contribution to the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press